American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker said he was not making “a political statement” by skipping an aviation executives meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday.
In a letter sent to employees on Thursday evening, Parker reiterated that he chose to stay in Dallas for the carrier’s annual leadership conference to speak to 1,600 American employees about the company’s direction for 2017.
“Unfortunately, in our divided political climate, some assume my not being there was a political statement. Nothing could be further from the truth – I would have happily attended the meeting and would like to have been able to do so,” Parker said in the letter, adding that he was certain “we made the right decision for the people of American Airlines.”
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Parker faced some criticism from employees, including American’s pilots union, for not attending the meeting at the White House on Thursday.
“Yesterday, the most important meeting to our pilots and the employees of American Airlines was in Washington D.C. with the President of the United States,” said Allied Pilots Association president Dan Carey. “But no matter the meeting choice of our CEO, we remain hopeful that President Trump will continue to deliver on his promise to put U.S. jobs first.”
The meeting included several airline executives, such as Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly, and executives from airports such as Los Angeles and Tampa. The executives discussed the need to reform the air traffic control system.
“We’ve spent billions of dollars on the air traffic control modernization but it’s not making any meaningful progress,” Kelly said at the meeting. “We are still using fundamentally World War II-era ground-based radar to guide the aircraft from a navigation standpoint.”
In the past seven years, the Federal Aviation Administration has spent $7.5 billion on the air traffic modernization program, called NextGen. The program helps design more efficient ways for aircraft to take off and land at some of the nation’s busiest airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.