Sky Talk

American Airlines’ pilots union says management is “manipulating flight plans”

American Airlines pilots get their Airbus A321 ready for a trip to Boston at DFW International Airport in DFW Airport, TX, Thursday, April 28, 2016.
American Airlines pilots get their Airbus A321 ready for a trip to Boston at DFW International Airport in DFW Airport, TX, Thursday, April 28, 2016. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

American Airlines’ pilots union says airline management is manipulating flight plans to keep operations running on time during the busy travel season.

In a letter sent to American pilots, Allied Pilots Association president Dan Carey said the union is receiving reports that the airline is recalculating flight plans to keep crews legal under Federal Aviation Administration rules.

“Management has announced a new operations initiative in which management is attempting to exploit our sense of professionalism and our innate willingness to carry the operation and help our company,” Carey said in the letter. “This erosion of the safety margin cannot be tolerated. Pilot pushing leads to ‘rush to comply’ behavior, and it must stop.”

Pilots are reporting that management is increasing airspeeds near an airplane’s limit, decreasing taxi times by using speeds that are not normal, and using flight routes that are in conflict with usual air traffic control routing, the union said.

There are also reports of company representatives pushing pilots to voluntarily extend their FAA duty time, using techniques to remind a pilot about the effects of a canceled flight if the pilot declines.

“American Airlines’ operations are clearly over-scheduled, and management is now resorting to improvisation. Don’t let management’s schedule-planning mistakes become your next crisis,” Carey said.

Earlier this month, American chief operating officer Robert Isom sent an email to all employees discussing new operational initiatives. American spokesman Matt Miller said that safety and regulatory compliance are “the first and foremost consideration” when the airline makes operational decisions.

“Our integration and associated changes are complex and we remain committed to working together with all employee groups to ensure that this ongoing process is thoughtful, smooth and orderly,” Miller said.

Full text of the Allied Pilots letter

Stop Management’s Pilot Pushing

There will be no "speed up" when it comes to safety

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect."

— Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London, 1930s

Fellow APA pilots,

No matter how many flight hours you bring to an American Airlines flight deck, you’ve likely seen this quote before. It is a poignant reminder of the nature of our profession.

As professional pilots, we take on the awesome responsibility of preventing any "carelessness, incapacity, or neglect" from infecting our flight operations. Other truisms such as "if in doubt there is no doubt" and respecting your calling as the "last link in the safety chain" serve as helpful reminders of the safety focus our profession demands. We transport people across the globe every hour of every day of every year. Any lack of respect for the margin of safety, intentional or otherwise, is a no-go on every American Airlines flight deck.

In my message to you on the first day of my term, I promised that I would fight against any efforts by management to exploit pilots. Unfortunately, management has announced a new operations initiative in which management is attempting to exploit our sense of professionalism and our innate willingness to carry the operation and help our company. This initiative has the potential to place our licenses and, more importantly, our passengers and crew at an increased risk.

During this critical summer travel period and integration phase, I am alarmed by the incidences of pilot pushing that are occurring at American Airlines. On July 12, Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom sent an email to all employees announcing several new operational initiatives. One of those initiatives is called "speed up flight plans." Within his announcement, he stated that the company will "utilize ‘speed up’ flight plans to reduce delays involving crew duty times where necessary."

APA pilots are now reporting that management is manipulating flight plans in order to keep an operation under duress from coming apart at the seams. Pilot reports indicate management is directing that flight plans be recalculated to keep crews FAA legal via the following tactics:

Increased airspeeds nearing aircraft limitations.

Increased airspeeds even though aircraft are flight planned through areas of forecast or known turbulence — conditions in which aircraft manufacturers direct lower turbulence speeds.

Decreased taxi times using paths and speeds deviating from what would normally be considered rational.

Using flight routing in conflict with known/commonly expected ATC routing.

These last-minute manipulations are used to make a flight appear legal when in reality it’s not or is, at best, on the ragged edge. Often, these initial changes are made without the captain being included. There are even instances of managers promising expedited clearance of a taxi route if crews accept the flight plan.

This erosion of the safety margin cannot be tolerated. Pilot pushing leads to "rush to comply" behavior, and it must stop. Management’s unilateral implementation of a policy designed to skirt the intended safety margin of FAA legal limits also violates the intent of Flight Manual Part One’s American Airlines Safety Policy: "Safety must be the first and foremost consideration in every decision and in every facet of our company." Any behavior or corporate cost-cutting program that creates a "rush to comply" environment must not be allowed to continue.

Additionally, APA has received an increasing number of reports detailing crew scheduling and tracking representatives employing pilot-pushing techniques when dealing with duty-time limits. When inquiring about a pilot’s willingness to voluntarily extend their FAA duty time, these representatives are citing the potential consequences of a cancelled flight if a pilot declines. Do not let these tactics influence your decision.

FAA regulations are clear: It is your call. Any intimidation by company representatives to pressure you into voluntarily extending your duty time is at odds with the high safety standard we as pilots must maintain. Do not allow anyone to push you into compromising your margin of safety. The safety of our passengers and fellow employees is and must always be our first priority.

If you experience any of these pilot-pushing tactics, ensure that your decision is not influenced by pressure — make the right call, respectfully and professionally. Then file an ASAP report and an APA Observer Report so that APA can collect data to combat this intrusion on our professional authority.

American Airlines’ operations are clearly over-scheduled, and management is now resorting to improvisation. Don’t let management’s schedule-planning mistakes become your next crisis.

In my initial message to you, I identified the values that I believe should guide our every action: respect, integrity, fairness, competence, and accountability. I also expressed the view that those same core values should guide the actions of American Airlines management, but the pilot-pushing tactics I have addressed in this message have left me questioning whether management agrees.

Stand by for additional information and direction while we work as a unified pilot corps toward making American Airlines not just the largest airline in the world, but also the safest and most respected, while ensuring that management is not allowed to exploit our collective goodwill.

I will leave you with two solemn reminders. Nearly every incident begins with a seemingly innocuous event or action that, left unchecked, is followed by another and another. Stay in the green, and do not allow anything or anyone to compromise your commitment to safety.

"By far the greater number of aeroplane accidents are due to precisely the same circumstances that have caused previous accidents. A distressing feature of these accidents is the evidence they afford of the unwillingness, or the inability, of many pilots to profit from the experiences and mistakes of others."

— Gustav Hamel and Charles C. Turner, Flying: Some Practical Experiences, published posthumously in 1914

"Do not let yourself be forced into doing anything before you are ready."

— Wilbur Wright

In Unity,

Captain Dan Carey

APA President

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