Envoy Pilot Vote to be Watched Closely.


Jun 29, 2004
"...Dear Fellow Eagle Pilots:

This will be my last opportunity to send a message to you in my role as Training Committee Chairman. In May I will most likely be in new hire training at AA. It has been a pleasure serving Eagle pilots in this role, as well as in my former roles of Communication Committee Chairman, LEC 83 Secretary/Treasurer and Pilot 2 Pilot Representative.

This pilot group is currently in the midst of a very important decision – voting on a TA that will define our way forward with this airline. It will also have significant impact on the definition of the regional and major airline industry in the next coming years. Because of this, I feel it is worthwhile to mention what I experienced at the latest ALPA Training Council meeting held in ALPA Headquarters in Herndon last month. Everyone seemed to be discussing one topic – the “pilot shortage.” 

During one of the sessions, we discussed the future of the Multi Crew Pilot License (MPL), as well as the challenge of finding qualified applicants for our training programs.

The FAA’s Perspective 

We heard from high ranking FAA officials who described the latest status of regulatory changes concerning the Restricted ATP Certificate. It was very clearly stated that there is absolutely no appetite from Congress or FAA to provide any relief to the new changes in ATP certification brought about by PL 111-216. The Families of Continental Flight 3407 is a well-organized and influential lobby. There are currently no members of Congress willing to challenge them. Their website is www.3407memorial.com.

The Airline Industry Perspective

We were later joined by representative of Airlines 4 America, formerly known the Air Transport Association. They are the main lobby for the airlines. They were there to “explore” how ALPA might view a change in Airline Transport Pilot qualifications to allow for a great reduction in required flight hours and the concept of “ab initio” training. Basically, they were on a fishing trip. It was clear that they were very eager to find relief from the coming crisis.

We discussed the finer points of ab initio training. We also frankly discussed the problem of the pilot shortage. The Director of Training for Delta Airlines was present and he remarked that “Delta does not have a shortage of pilot applicants” but he was at the same time “concerned for the future of pilot supply for the Delta Regional Network.”

The Cost of Training A Pilot Is Rising Sharply

We also discussed the change in the requirements of achieving an ATP that will take effect after July 31, 2014. This can be reviewed by researching FAA Notice N 8900.225. After this date, pilots pursuing an ATP certificate must also complete an ATP certification training program. This program must include 30 hours of ground training and 10 hours of simulator training. The program must be completed prior to being eligible to take the ATP written and practical tests. The 10 hours of simulator training will include 6 hours of training in a level C or D (full motion) simulator. 

According to the rule, this course will only be offered through Part 141, 142, 135 or 121 certificate holders, not allowing for Part 61 flight schools to develop courses and provide the training. Some have estimated that the cost of such a program may be approximately $15,000.

Basically, the unanswered question in the room was… “Who is going to pay the cost of training all the future pilots that will be necessary in the coming years?” The cost of earning these certificates, the ATP Certification Program, and building flight time has now become prohibitive. This is the factor which will soon kill the civilian pipeline of future airline pilots.

Who Is Going To Pay For It?

It seemed unanimous to the Training Council that this cost would have to mean a great downsizing of the regional airline model and a shift towards mainline flying. Airlines will have a strong need for pilots to replace the coming retirements - and they will have to pay to attract and train these pilots.

According to Airlines 4 America on March 5, the nine major airlines’ 2013 profits totaled approximately $7.4 billion. According to profit analysts, the New American Airlines is projected to earn $3.5 billion alone by 2014. That’s 3.5 with eight zeros behind it. $3,500,000,000!

Major airlines have become addicted to the cheap pilot costs they’ve enjoyed for thirty years. They desperately want this to continue. No one wants to be the first to break ranks. Regional airlines are desperate too. They are feeling the squeeze. But, rather than turn towards their mainline partners and admit that the costs of regional flying are going up sharply, they are turning to their old game plan – squeeze airline labor. Pilots are usually an easy target.

Is There Really A Shortage?

While ALPA’s message is that we are facing a “pay and benefits shortage,” the answer is yes. Even if pay and benefits were sharply increased tomorrow, it doesn’t solve the problem. The numbers are huge.

The number of pilot retirements in the coming years has been well publicized. The most notable report is from Boeing. The 2013 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, a respected industry forecast of personnel demand, projects a requirement for 498,000 new commercial airline pilots and 556,000 new maintenance technicians to fly and maintain the new airplanes entering the world fleet over the next 20 years.

It seemed clear to everyone present, including the Airlines 4 America representatives, that the current model of using regional airlines to train and mature pilots is unsustainable. American Airlines is a member of A4A. AAG management knows this is true as well. Something big will have to change.

Pilots, for the first time since the 1960’s are now a valuable commodity.

What About Flow Through Programs?

Ladies and gentlemen, as a seasoned Eagle pilot you are currently qualified and marketable to any major airline that is hiring – whether you have PIC time or not. Eagle pilots will be moving to mainline jobs in greater numbers as each month passes. Therefore a flow through is a nice extra, but should not stop anyone from applying to the major airline of their choice.

The Allied Pilots Association agrees. In a recent publication referencing the recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report on the pilot shortage and wrote…

"…the regional FFD (Fee For Departure) companies need to change the model or increase compensation if they want to incentivize ATP qualified pilots to work for them instead of taking a job at a major carrier."

"Pilots, both individually and in organized groups at regional carriers, are realizing that the path to a major airline job with appropriate compensation is no longer necessarily through the regional carriers and that pay and long term career opportunities reside at the major carriers. APA Broadly supports the FFD pilots in their efforts to enhance the profession and reverse the decline of pilot wages and working conditions."

"We encourage all professional pilots to reach out and offer support for the profession especially to the regional pilots that are under fire at this time." APA Scope Committee

What Is A Pilot Really Worth?

The vote before us will be very significant to the future of our airline. It will also be significant to the future of all pilots – regional and mainline. Recognizing our value as qualified, experienced Part 121 pilots will affect our fellow aviators at Expressjet, Skywest, Republic, and Compass. It will also affect our fellow aviators at United, Delta, American, Alaska, and the like.

Who should pay the price for these rising costs? Should pilots bear the costs of unsustainable contracts with mainline providers? Should our spouses and children bear the burden of a broken business model? Are we willing to subsidize this model with concessions and paychecks that have been frozen for a decade?

I feel that this information is vital for every Eagle pilot to understand. The TA that is currently being promoted by Eagle management seems to contradict everything I heard in Washington DC. It is basically being presented to you as a way to help everyone flow to American Airlines and to attract new hires. It may help attract some. But many experienced Eagle pilots recognize the familiar scheme of future promises in an attempt to cling to the rock bottom business model of the past.

Things Are Changing Rapidly

Only 10 days after exiting bankruptcy, AAG informed us that the “landscape had changed” in the airline industry and that they would need additional concessions from Eagle pilots in order to bring new flying to our airline. Things are changing indeed - faster than anyone imagined. Things are about to change quite significantly as it relates to regional airlines and their ability to staff their cockpits. The pilots at Skywest, ExpressJet, and Republic know this. Other FFD (Fee For Departure) pilot groups are beginning to take notice as well. These changes should cause an immediate red flag at any agreement that we make which has a 10 year duration with no indexing ability to capture the benefits of this situation.

The Industry Is Watching

Pilots at other airlines - major and regional alike - are watching us. Airline managements - major and regional alike - are watching us. This is a large pilot group that can bring significant pressure to bear on the entire industry. This pressure can be used to build or destroy.

After our Training Council meetings were over, the unofficial meetings began – in the hotel bar. It was an honor to be congratulated by all the other regional pilots present. They all recognized the Eagle MEC’s stand against the B-scale and a concessionary contract. Every single regional pilot at this event offered to buy me drinks. “No Eagle pilot is going to buy his own drink tonight!” My normal beverage is ice water with lemon, but I was nonetheless grateful for the sentiment. Notably, representatives from PSA were not present at the meetings.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must put a stop to this broken cycle. Skywest pilots have seen a positive trend in pay rates. Expressjet pilots recently overwhelmingly rejected concessions. The Republic pilots are watching to see how Eagle pilots vote.

There will also be those who don’t care about the future of the profession as a whole. There are those who are senior who are too close to retiring to want to rock the boat. I am hopeful that enough Eagle pilots care about the future to make a stand for the future of our livelihoods. 

The eyes of the industry are watching us. We will carry this decision with us at the layover hotels, in the airport terminals, in the jumpseats, and in the seats that we will occupy at future airlines.

Vote wisely.