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US Airways Pilots Union Earns a Long Overdue Cranky Jackass Award For Using Safety as a Negotiation Tactic

I’ve written many times about the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), and it’s never been in a good light. This week, the group which represents the pilots at US Airways has once again topped itself by taking out a full page ad in USA Today talking about how US Airways is unsafe. Though there are other groups in the running, I think USAPA has demonstrated that it is the most ineffective, poorly run union group out there. For Cranky Jackass Awardthe misguided representation it provides its pilots, USAPA gets the Cranky Jackass award. This has been a long time coming.

You may already know the story. USAPA was created when the US Airways “East” (pre-merger US Airways) pilots didn’t like the seniority agreement that was decided upon in binding arbitration (yes, “binding” is apparently a loose term) with the US Airways “West” (pre-merger America West) pilots. So they marched off and voted in a new union, casting off the arbitration result. The West pilots didn’t like that (it’s been working its way through the courts), but they didn’t have the numbers to prevent the move. You can read more of the history here. In short, USAPA has done absolutely nothing good for its members, but it wrongly likes to blame US Airways management for its failings.

And that brings us to USAPA’s current strategy . . . try to burn down the company and apparently put all of its members out of a job.

The latest shameful tactic is the taking out of a full page ad in USA Today claiming that US Airways is unsafe. Let’s see. You work for an airline that pays your salary with revenue that comes in the door, and now you’re going to turn around and try to shut off that revenue by falsely claiming your airline is unsafe? Simply pathetic. It’s such a blatant negotiating tactic, but how will the general public react? That’s unclear, though this hasn’t received much press at all considering all the more important “real” news in the aviation world in the last week.

The ad itself used a single pilot incident that happened on June 16 to show the supposed danger of flying the airline. Apparently there was a flight scheduled to cross the Atlantic from Philly that evening and there were a couple of mechanical issues. There are some mechanical issues that aren’t considered crucial to be fixed, and that appears to be the case here, but the captain refused to fly the airplane and then, according to the union, she was escorted out of the airport by corporate security. The next crew refused to fly the airplane as well. Over the next couple hours, some maintenance work was done and the airplane went on its way with a third crew.

This is why the union says US Airways is an unsafe airline. It says the airline is intimidating its pilots and pushing them to fly even if it’s not safe. Then if they refuse, it has security remove them. Sounds bad, right? Too bad it’s a crock.

Now, regarding the mechanical incident itself, I don’t know whether the captain did the right thing by refusing to fly the airplane. I do know that the FAA found US Airways did nothing wrong. Here’s the statement:

The FAA manager assigned to the US Airways certificate reviewed the June 16, 2011 incident. The APU shutdown the aircraft experienced is a failure that pilots are well aware can happen and that they are trained to recognize. The battery apparently was depleted by attempts to restart the APU. Flying an aircraft with an inoperative APU is not an unusual event and normally poses no safety issues when proper limitations are applied. The Captain simply chose to exercise her pilot-in-command authority of not accepting an aircraft. Our information indicates that US Airways followed their approved MEL procedures, and all maintenance procedures were followed in accordance with the operator’s approved maintenance program. We found no violations of Federal Aviation Regulations.

That being said, if a captain doesn’t feel comfortable flying an airplane, then it’s his or her right to deny it. The problem arises when that privilege is abused just to delay or cancel flights without good reason. I’m not saying that happened here. I don’t know, and frankly, it’s not central to my point. I have no problem in theory with her walking away from the flight.

But why would security come escort the captain from the airport? USAPA wants you to believe it’s because she refused to fly the airplane. Not quite. According to US Airways, “the Captain was escorted out of the airport by corporate security (after being released from duty) not for her refusal to fly but for her comments made to customers regarding the safety of the aircraft.” Unfortunately, I don’t know details about what she said to the passengers, but it was apparently highly inappropriate. See more in this a.net discussion. I would have had her carted off the airplane as well.

In reality, there is nothing pointing to US Airways being unsafe but rather more evidence of the airline having good safety practices. It recently passed the IATA Operational Safety Audit, for example. But that won’t stop the union from trying to sully the airline’s reputation. (Get it? Sully? I crack myself up.)

In the end, USAPA simply wants to damage US Airways as if this will somehow convince the airline to throw a ton of money at the union and solve all its problems. Unfortunately, the union needs to solve its own problems regarding seniority before it can even be ready to talk to management, and it doesn’t seem any closer to doing so. I feel really bad for those pilots who never even wanted this union to represent them in the first place. This whole thing is simply pathetic and more than worthy of the Cranky Jackass Award.

[Thanks to Johosofat for the excellent Cranky Jackass Award]

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