Rehiring Of Furloughed Pilots Not A Quick Fix
As the saying goes... the first step towards recovery is
admitting you have a problem. That's a lesson Northwest Airlines
has had to take to heart, after two months of cancelled flights,
surly passengers, and constant media attention.
However, recovery takes time... and despite the Eagan, MN-based
airline's plan to hire hundreds of furloughed pilots and reduce
capacity, in an attempt to stave off the rash of cancellations that
have plagued Northwest since June... many in the industry expect
the situation to get worse, or at best remain the same, before it
gets any better.
It isn't hard to see why. Even furloughed pilots will need to be
retrained before they can take the controls, a process that may
take a month or more. And even then, it's possible Northwest won't
be able to hire back all the pilots it needs.
Representatives with the Air Line Pilots Association -- quick to
call Northwest management on the carpet for the airline's current
state -- add it's unlikely anything more than a fraction of the 385
rehired pilots will actually return to the carrier. And that means,
despite the airline's assertions to the contrary... August will
likely be another tough month for Northwest passengers.
"It's highly unlikely this will actually work out for them,"
John Clifford, president of San Diego-based International Travel
Management, told the Detroit News. "The pilot shortage will
continue. It's not going to go away that easily."
As ANN reported, Northwest's
current woes began in late June, less than one month after the
carrier emerged from bankruptcy. As the airline's pilots reached
their 90 flight-hours-per-month cap, there weren't enough pilots
with time to spare to cover the airline's schedule. That pattern
repeated in July.
Northwest initially blamed the situation on stormy weather, ATC
issues, and pilot absenteeism... but pilots maintain the airline
tried to do too much, with too few pilots, in hopes of padding the
carrier's bottom line.
On Tuesday, the airline came closer than ever before to
admitting that, yes, the pilots may be on to something.
"It is obviously a problem," said Andrea Fischer Newman,
Northwest's senior vice president of government affairs. "We
recognize it's a problem. We're taking responsibility for our part
in the issue and doing what we can to correct it."
But the airline maintains a "significant increase" in pilots
calling in sick, or just not showing up for their flights, is the
primary reason for the cancellations.
In response, ALPA has said
pilots who in the past volunteered to work extra time to help out,
are less inclined to do so today, in the wake of lucrative bonuses
paid to Northwest CEO Doug Steenland (right) and other managers.
Pilots and other Northwest workers took steep pay and benefits cuts
while the carrier was in bankruptcy.
That news may also mean trouble for Northwest as it tries to
bring furloughed pilots back to work, said ALPA spokesman Wade
Blaufuss. "Why would they want to return to an employer that
clearly doesn't value them?" he asks. "They would be returning to a
job that's expecting more work for far less pay."
Analyst Clifford agrees. "These pilots don't want to return to
this company," he said. "They know they can find better pay
Newman says it doesn't matter how many furloughed pilots
actually return to work, since the airline also plans to hire from
outside the company -- a strategy that appears to be paying
off, at least for now, for rival carrier United
"It's irrelevant how many pilots are going to come back," she
said. "Northwest is already receiving interest from pilots looking
to join the company. We will begin hiring them once the furloughed
pilots have made their decision regarding the opportunity."
In any case, analysts say don't expect relief at Northwest until
well after Labor Day -- as more pilots come online, just as the
busy summer travel season winds down.
"This is nothing more than a stop-gap measure," Clifford said of
Northwest's plans. "They're definitely not coming out of bankruptcy