Over 100 Pilots Eligible For Early-Out
The possible retirements of over 100 pilots in February has
prompted American Airlines to take several flights off its schedule
for the month, according to representatives with the Fort Worth,
TX-based airline and its pilots union.
"We have decided to proactively cancel a number of flights so as
to provide minimal disruptions to our customers' travel plans,"
American spokeswoman Tami McLallen told The Tulsa World. "It's a
very very small number of flights. And it's not about cost cutting;
it's about retirements."
Not surprisingly, the Allied Pilots Association -- which
represents over 9,000 pilots at American, and another 2,100 laid
off or on furlough -- disputes that assertion, claiming the
cancellations are due to overly-steep cost cuts by the airline.
"Time and again, the evidence has pointed to a pilot shortage at
American Airlines," APA President Lloyd Hill said. "[February's]
numerous flight cancellations are proof positive that management
has failed to retain a sufficient number of pilots to staff the
McLallen said American plans to cancel only one-tenth of one
percent of its scheduled flights in February. That works out to
about 76 flights, according to the World... though the spokeswoman
also added "That number will likely go up when we have the total
number of pilots who are actually retiring."
That may be optimistic, responds APA spokesman Scott
Shankland... who said up to 150 pilots may retire on February 1,
forcing the airline to cancel as many as 50 long-haul flights for
the month. "It's hard to determine how many people will retire, but
it's a contingency airline management should have been planning
for," Shankland said. "They are managing this airline for fair
weather operations because they have manned so thin."
McLallen believes the number of international flights cancelled
will be closer to 28, as some pilots opt for early retirement. It's
difficult to predict how many will opt for that route, however, and
the decision is something of a gamble either way.
Pilots approaching 60 years of age who chose to retire Friday
will be able to lock in a percentage of their benefits to the
current value of American's stock, for a 90-day period, if they opt
to retire now. That's a strong incentive for some pilots, who fear
the airline's stock price will continue to plummet -- and McLallen
admits several pilots have said they'll go that route, and get out
while they can.
Other pilots, however, appear willing to stick it out, in the
hopes the stock price goes higher. "Some pilots may think if they
keep working, things may rebound," McLallen said. Also complicating
matters is the recent passage of the Age 65 rule, allowing pilots
to stay in the cockpit under certain conditions five years later
than previously allowed.
As ANN reported, the flight
performance tracking website Flightstats.com recently compiled a
list of flights that were cancelled in 2007, ahead of the official
numbers to be released by the Department of Transportation next
month. According to that study, American cancelled 21,624 flights
for the year, or 2.7 percent of its entire schedule.
That's more than any other network carrier, the World notes...
and it's a figure Shankland believes shows how lean American is
trying to run its operations, something that doesn't bode well for
"The company is going to be worrying about keeping their
schedule intact," the APA spokesman said. "We're telling our pilots
to be concerned about safety.
"It's the pilot's ultimate decision to take that flight," he
added. "It's the pilot the FAA will come after, not the