American Airlines is finding that a scheme to encourage off-duty pilots to jump in a simulator to help with a Line Operational Evaluation is not going over with the union.
"They're in a crisis to get pilots through training. They're underwater trying to get as many pilots through as possible," said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots. "Management right now is making up rules as they go along."
The union has filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, claiming that asking line pilots to participate in other pilots' simulator sessions as a “seat filler” constitutes a change in work rules, which would require negotiation with the union.
The seat-filler or second pilot role in the sim is normally handled by check pilots. American says a check airman would still conduct the evaluation.
Volunteer line Captains and First Officers would be paid for LOE seat-filling but would forego days off to do so.
Lyle Hogg, Vice President of Flight Operations Training for AA, said, "As demand continues to grow and we continue to hire, we need to expand our pilot training capabilities to an historically unprecedented level."
But the union is not buying the non-negotiated change. APA President Capt. Eric Ferguson said, "This unilateral action by American Airlines management degrades the training experience and risks long-term damage to the airline's safety culture."
American is trying to hire 2,200 new pilots in 2022, or 180 per month.
United Airlines is reportedly using the voluntary seat-filler scheme as well.
Pilot shortages have also led United and American to resort to some nap-of-the-earth flying: using buses to transport passengers from larger airports to smaller cities, including some not previously on the route schedule. They have reportedly signed contracts with the Colorado “bus-as-flight” company Landline to transport passengers and their luggage on short routes. For example, Denver to Fort Collins, Colorado. Or Philadelphia to bus stops in New Jersey, beginning June 3rd.
With travel at nearly 90% of pre-pandemic numbers, the Southwest Airlines Pilot’s Association is concerned over fatigue. In an open letter to SWA executives, the union warned, “April is already setting fatigue records. Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat.”
SAPA officials alleged poor scheduling, a staffing shortage and logistics: “Fatigue numbers have been climbing exponentially since last summer with no meaningful attempts by management to mitigate them.”
Southwest claims “a significant and steady decline” in pilots calling in fatigued after scheduling changes made in November and that a March increase was expected due to weather. “The increase is expected, as it’s common to experience an elevated level of fatigue calls during irregular operations and in March the industry faced weather and airspace delays that resulted in disruptions across the network. The March increase in pilot fatigue calls is a result of the system working as designed, allowing crew to determine if they are too fatigued to fly.”