Pilot Shortage Strikes Airline For Second Month
Northwest Airlines may
not be the only airline out there to have cancelled flights
lately... but it is by far the one getting the most press. The
Eagan, MN-based airline -- just two months out of Chapter 11 --
continues to face problems with scrapped flights, discontented
pilots... and angry passengers.
Airline spokesman Roman Blahoski blamed a high rate of "pilot
absenteeism" for this weekend's cancellations, which the airline
says amounted to eight percent of Northwest's total schedule.
Even that number may be optimistic, however, according to
FlightStats.com... which reports 178 Northwest flights were
cancelled Saturday, amounting to 13.3 percent of its schedule.
Things were even worse on Sunday -- when the airline dropped 213
The discrepancy lies in the Department of Transportation's
definition of flight cancellations, Blahoski told the
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune. Some of those flights were
cancelled a week ahead of time... meaning they do not count against
the airline's dropped flight totals in the eyes of DOT.
Still, says analyst Terry Trippler, a cancelled flight is a
cancelled flight... and it's a problem Northwest is rapidly
becoming known for.
"Right now, this airline is dysfunctional. Someone has got to
take charge and straighten it out," said the Minneapolis-based
airline expert Sunday.
That kind of "the buck stops here" attitude seems lacking at the
carrier, however. As was the case at the end of last month --
when Northwest dropped nearly 12 percent of its schedule over a
weeklong period -- the airline blamed the problem on its
"Unfortunately, we saw a significant spike in certain
narrow-body pilot absenteeism this morning, which forced us to
cancel flights," said CEO Doug Steenland in a letter to employees
Wade Blaufuss, spokesman for the Northwest branch of the Air
Line Pilots Association, says Steenland isn't painting the full
picture. The union rep maintains that due to cuts in personnel at
the carrier -- intended to add to profits at the airline -- pilots
"are being pushed to fly up to their monthly legal limits well
before the month is over, with not enough reserve staff to pick up
"This is a staffing
issue. If it were strictly a morale issue, absenteeism would be
systemwide" and affect pilots flying other aircraft types as well,
Not helping those pilots' willingness to work some overtime for
the carrier, Blaufuss said, is the fact pilots have taken a
combined 38.9 percent in pay cuts since 2004, while Steenland was
able to pocket a four-year stock bonus worth nearly $27 million
upon the carrier's exit from bankruptcy.
"Northwest management must accept that it is their
responsibility to staff the airline for real-world operations, not
just what fits their bonus-driven, cost-cutting targets," said
And that may well mean more cancelled flights to come.