American Air union sues over plan for training new pilots

American Airlines 787-8. (Photo/American Airlines)

American Airlines Group Inc. was sued by its pilots union to block a plan that would seek volunteers to help with flight-simulator training amid record hiring.

The plan would violate the Railway Labor Act, which prohibits unilateral changes to contracts between airlines and their unions, according to the suit, filed Thursday by the Allied Pilots Association in a federal court in Texas.

The case comes a day after the union told members not to sign up to assist with simulator training. The work typically is the responsibility of so-called check pilots, not those who fly regularly for the carrier.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines.

“The pilots volunteering are highly qualified and experienced, and are responsible for the safety of our customers and fellow crew members every day,” the airline said in response to the lawsuit.

American is preparing for a rebound of travel demand into 2023 and says it’s ahead of a plan to add 2,200 pilots this year, meaning as many as 70 new ones need to be trained each week. U.S. airlines are hiring thousands of cockpit crew this year to adjust for early retirements when the Covid-19 pandemic decimated travel demand.

The APA, which is in contract negotiations with American, said flight pilots haven’t been prepared to handle simulator training the way check pilots have and may inadvertently bring their personal experience to bear.

“This unilateral action by American Airlines management degrades the training experience,” union President Eric Ferguson said in a statement. Management was ill-prepared for the rebound in airline traffic, he said. “If the airline’s training resources weren’t under severe duress, management wouldn’t have taken this unilateral, reckless and unlawful action.”

American plans to offer pilots extra pay for giving up a day off to help during a trainee’s final day of flight-simulator sessions. That would free check pilots to handle training in actual aircraft, the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline told pilots.

The case is Allied Pilots Association v. American Airlines Inc., 4:22-cv-00315-O, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).

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