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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Formation #Blog: If I Had 1 Wish for Aviation

#blogformation #aviation #avgeek

It's Blogging in Formation week!
Posts all week beginning Sept. 1!
Theme: "If I Had 1 Wish for Aviation"
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BUT FIRST
"You won't want to put down The Last Bush Pilots while the midnight sun still shines."
Airways Magazine
Finally had a chance to scan in Airways Magazine's review of my novel, The Last Bush Pilots!

Grab a copy of the current Airways Magazine (October, 2013),
now available here onlineor at your local bookstore!



Better yet, grab a print or ebook copy of The Last Bush Pilots at Amazon or iBookstore!
50% of proceeds go to orphanage charities!

Links:

          (Now buy the print version and get the Kindle for 99¢!)

_______________


And now . . .
BLOGGING IN FORMATION
"If I Had 1 Wish for Aviation"


“Why can’t we all just get along?”

—Rodney King

The image of the airline pilot is a super one. 

Second only to firefighter, airline pilot consistently ranks as the top most respected profession in the world. The stereotype of the stoic, benevolent, grandfatherly problem-solver in the sky is embedded in our psyche. Calm in the face of danger, the airline pilot gets it done. Plane on fire? Cat caught in a tree? Don’t panic! I’m an airline pilot.

But this heroic sky god has a secret weakness as powerful as Superman’s Kryptonite, one that will reduce him to a blubbering, tantrum-throwing 2-year old. Worse, it threatens to transform our benevolent Supergramps into Bizarro Supergramps, a snarling, cannibalistic jackal willing eat his own kind.


This Kryptonite has a name: Seniority.

Seniority is everything to a pilot. It dictates whether he’s a Captain or First Officer, holds a line (schedule) or is on reserve (on call), what equipment he’s on and where he’s based. It tells him whether he has weekends and Christmas off or has to fly redeyes. It dictates whether he even has a job.
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This Kryptonite has a name: Seniority
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Unlike doctors, lawyers and other professionals, pilots cannot make lateral moves between companies. Why? Because there is no easy measuring stick for saying, “This pilot is ‘better’ than that one, therefore he should be senior.” Either a pilot can fly, or can’t.




As a result, seniority is solely based on date of hire (DOH). The longer a pilot stays—in theory—the better his schedule, pay, and job security. The more people beneath him, the more he is cushioned from furlough (layoff, with recall rights) during a downturn. When a single company is involved, everybody agrees: DOH is the only fair way to determine seniority.
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When airlines merge, all hell breaks loose
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But when airlines merge, all hell breaks loose.

At first glance, DOH seems like a fair integration for any merger as well. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Not at all.  First of all, no merged list is ever "fair"—one pilot always moves up on the back of another. Secondly, fair is solely in the eye of the beholder. In fact, it turns out, DOH is often so unfair for mergers that a recent act of Congress, the McCaskill-Bonds Amendment (see below)*, seeks to prevent mergers based solely on DOH.

To my knowledge, there has never been an airline merger in history wherein the pilots got together, held hands and sang Kumbaya while hammering out a reasonable, integrated seniority list. Instead, both sides fight beak and claw for the slightest advantage, and will stop at nothing to press advantage. No dirty trick is forbidden.




There’s no better example of this cannibalistic behavior than the 2006 purchase of bankrupt USAirways by America West Airlines. At the time, original USAirways ("East") pilots had as many furloughed (on the street) as America West ("West") had pilots.

During seniority negotiations with ALPA (Airline Pilots Association, their mutual union,) East pilots argued vehemently for DOH. This would “staple” 80% of West pilots beneath the East—even below those that had been laid off. This would force the majority of West pilots onto the street—the very pilots that had saved their jobs!

So much for pilots joining hands and singing Kumbaya.


"Thanks for saving my job. Now here's your pink slip, Rookie!"
The West argued for a “relative seniority” integration, which would keep virtually all pilots—East and West—in their respective airplane, seat and base. This would have the added benefit of minimal costs for the new airline. Federal arbitrator George Nicolau agreed, but placed 517 East pilots on top of the West pilots’ entire seniority list.

That is, the #1 West pilot was now #518. All West pilots lost relative seniority, while all East pilots gained.

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So much for pilots joining hands and singing Kumbaya.
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But that wasn't enough. The East pilots used their superior numbers (about 2 to 1) to force West pilots out of ALPA and into their own, in-house union, “US Airways Pilots Association" (USAPA.) USAPA's primary mandate was to implement a DOH list and ignore the legally binding Nicolau arbitration—even though the Company had already accepted the list.



"What? They're not all stapled below me? RRAAUU!!"

USAPA's very first act as a "union" was to sue 24 West pilots—accusing them of RICO "mafia" violations—for the "crime" of fighting back. Required by law to pay union dues, these West pilots were forced into the legally bizarre position of suing themselves. The suit was thrown out as frivolous, but for the past six years, more lawsuits have flown back and forth, with both sides fighting to a virtual stalemate. 

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The pilots were forced by law to sue themselves
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By all accounts, USAPA has failed as a union. Obsessed with DOH, it has stonewalled all pilot contract negotiations. Once the top moneymakers, USAirways pilots now languish at the rock bottom of the industry. Moreover, USAPA's every action has favored East pilots over West—blatantly illegal under labor laws. Post-merger, dozens of active West pilots were furloughed while all East furloughs have been recalled. While the last West pilots are only now being recalled from furlough, New Hires on the East have upgraded to Captain.


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By all accounts, USAPA has failed as a pilots union
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While not nearly the debacle as AWA/USAirways, the recent mergers at United/Continental, Delta/Northwest and Southwest/AirTran have all experienced similar turbulence. Indeed, American Airlines chewed up and spit out TWA pilots so severely, that it prompted Congress to create the McCaskill-Bonds Amendment.



What stands to happen with the new US/AA merger? If the past is any indicator, you'd better buckle your seatbelts. We're in for some serious self-inflicted turbulence.


IF I HAD ONE WISH FOR AVIATION, what would I change? Aviators.


In the immortal words of Pogo, We have met the enemy . . . and he is us.


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What one thing would I change in aviation?
Aviators.
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I say again, Tower: 

"Why can’t we all just get along?"

*Missouri Senators Clare McCaskill and Christopher Bond, alarmed by the treatment of West pilots at the hands of East during the AWA/USAirways acquisition, and concerned about the seniority integration treatment of employees at Trans World Airlines ("TWA") following its purchase by American Airlines and integration of the two airlines' operations and workforce, introduced legislation to guarantee labor protective provisions to airline employees with respect to seniority integration for certain covered transactions. Link: http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/164186/Aviation/Seniority+Integration+And+The+MccaskillBond+Statute

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Blogging in Formation week continues!
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twin towers, al qaeda, terrorism, tribute, in memorium, flight 93, blog, airline, avgeek, aviation
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18 comments:

  1. Eric,
    I had no idea that mergers created so much turmoil among the bargaining units. I would have to say that it's only due to the stark professionalism of the pilots involved that there isn't more problems from such an emotional topic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Brent!
      Yes, it's extremely emotional and stressful for all parties involved, no matter the merger. The wisest, best and strongest pilot groups take the emotions out of it to work together toward furthering mutual interests. But, sadly, that happens very, very rarely.

      Delete
  2. Why can't we all get along?

    A huge ego. Add a little greed combined with fear and a sense of entitlement?!? That old saying, be very afraid of large groups of people... well, let's add whose numbers outweigh those with the common sense.

    The really fascinating thing with this merger was the fact that a group of pilots had the ability to ignore the legally binding Nicolau arbitration and get away with it. Then form another union. Basically... "I don't like your rules so I'm taking my football and going home! Forming my own game with my own rules and you have to play with us or lose your livelihood!"

    The entire situation is crazy.

    Then you look at the ALPA system and the fact we were all one union. Should we not retain our seniority from Airline to Airline? Makes sense to those on the outside. The reason, and problem with doing this is the common sense value. Your example... working employees losing jobs after they built a strong airline, by employees that were not working.

    Just because a captain hangs onto a sinking ship as he goes down with it... does not mean after another ship saves it in the final hour, he should be placed at the helm of the ship that saved him kicking another off the boat.

    Then look at setting a precedent of date of hire that does not take into account narrow body pilots replacing 747 captains because they were hired at the charter service that grew into an airline and was bought up by an airline that saved them. That's not right.

    We went relative seniority and I lost close to three years. Date of hire would have been much better for me, and most of the NWA side of the house my seniority and below because of the juniority at DAL. NWA also brought the money to the table of this merger. We saved them. But... take a step back, assess what's "right" not what is "right for me" and you find the best solution. How many people can do that? They had the numbers... if they could have stapled, they would have. But management runs our union and that would not have been good for the merger. It wouldn't have happened with the NWA alias Cobras who will strike at anything. But top half ended up on the top...so they were happy. And... many of my south counter parts still think we should have been stapled.

    Why can't we all just get along? I asked that exact question this weekend dealing with a woman who spent her life as a 4th grade teacher. She was the boss of those kids and she forgot how to play nice during those years.

    Perhaps the answer is... we need to take our ego down a notch and learn how to work together, and instil common sense. What is fair for the group as a whole, not what is best for me. Oh...the essence of CRM. :)

    Excellent post!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, Karlene, excellent analysis and points! We could have formation blogged just about mergers!

      Coming from the NWA side of your merger, it was interesting to hear your take, as you would be leaning more toward a "DOH" scheme to come out better. I'm glad you pilot group was "mature" enough to accept what's "right" and not necessarily "right for me."

      I'd say: a LOT of ego, a LOT of greed, a little fear and a MAJOR sense of entitlement!

      Yes, a very good point, Karlene: the essence of CRM!

      Thank you for such an in-depth and insightful comment!

      Delete
  3. What an ordeal. Unions and the seniority-based system were just a few reasons I elected to avoid the Part 121 airlines. The "known" schedule of an airline pilot is superior to the "on demand" 135 industry, but I could never buy into working any place where my advancement was based solely on the date I was hired and did not take into account my work performance. I've belonged to unions (SAG, Actor's Equity, AGMA, etc) and never found them worth the while. More pain than gain.

    The worst part of this is that these self-induced wars take a toll on the individuals who are supposed to be working together in the cockpit. What a mess. But as long as the fate of an airline pilot hinges singularly on seniority, nothing is going to change. It's like a group of people with only enough food to feed a select few; of course they're going to fight over it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good points, Ron. Yes, DOH certainly takes out much of the job incentive. That's an excellent analogy, too. With too few to go around, those in control will fight for what's right...for THEM.

      I've always felt that unions are somewhat a "necessary evil"...until they just turn plain evil!

      Delete
  4. Hey Cappy.....WOW first of all I guess I've been in a cave........because I am loving........the banner and opening pic here on your blog........Very Nice...!!
    As far as the continuing........clusterf*ck..dealing with unions........and mergers.....Lawyers.......

    Quote.."Indeed, American Airlines chewed up and spit out TWA pilots so severely, that it prompted Congress to create the McCaskill-Bonds Amendment."
    Yes speaking......I recall just how AA as you said chewed up TWA..spit them out...then ran them over with the bus....only to back up again......going for the double dip.....extermination.......!!.
    I don't know enought to truly give an informed opinion after all I'm just an 'Aviation geek'..but seems to me.....the ones who win.....are the air-ambulance chasing lawyers.......and if enough time passes...they figure most of the pilots gave up...and got a job as a 'greeter' at Walmart..where the benefits......are probably better....or those involved have 'Died off'.......leaving.......with nothing.....truly sad....!!...
    yes I know 9/11 is around the corner and I am very nervous...about it..coming.......the world is so 'Whacked out'........I fear for the whole planet......and what the future may hold.....if there is one....Sorry to be so down.........and as always my bro, Cappy.....it is always a pleasure to read your posts..and the attention to detail..you put.......Safe Travels.....Cappy.....and hey...also looking forward to reading about your pal Brian......'Jumpseating'.......with ya....
    and the tour of ATC tower.....Don't forget to tell him.........I do window...and the ATC Tower windows could use a good cleaning.........I WISH...;)....!!
    Take Care Cap............MissTWA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Miss T!

      I just changed the banner this week, on a whim. Gotta "keep up with the Joneses!" ;-)

      Yes, we pilots are our own worst enemy, but you're right, in the end it's the lawyers who win! If we could only grow up at the negotiation table and be the pros we are in the cockpit, our world would be a better place.

      I don't fear the 9/11 anniversaries, from a safety standpoint. I know in many ways airlines are far safer--"hardened"--now than they were on that fateful day!

      I have the ATC posts primed and ready to go...you're gonna love 'em! ;-)

      Thanks for the post, Miss T!

      Delete
  5. I am very happy to see your new post. Its good , I like your posts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, thanks for reading. :-)

      Delete
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      HERE HERE!!!

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  7. Thanks Cap'n !!! It's an honor!!! EPIC blog my friend!!! Keep it up and keep inspiring!!! :)

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