Other Voices

Congress must protect airline safety and jobs in Texas

A Boeing 737 airliner landing at DFW International Airport.
A Boeing 737 airliner landing at DFW International Airport. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Texas thrives on a robust aviation economy. With more than 26 commercial airports serving 22 cities, there’s no doubt that the Lone Star State has benefited from the airline industry, which supports 630,000 good-paying Texas jobs and drives economic growth across our state.

Even with such clear contributions to the health of our economy, Texas’ airline industry faces a rising threat known as “flags of convenience” schemes, which have the potential to decimate aviation jobs in Texas and across America.

These schemes allow airlines to determine their headquarters based on a country’s regulatory climate. That means airlines can choose to headquarter in a country where they are able to bypass labor and safety standards — and can pay workers lower wages. It also means that airlines can hire pilots, flight attendants and maintenance crews from countries around the world where American safety and labor standards don’t apply.

A pilot’s job is to put passengers first. We do it every day by ensuring strict adherence to safety practices and high training standards. Airlines that pursue flags of convenience, on the other hand, frequently hire contract pilots — not career aviators — who are naturally more concerned about their next flight than the high standards Americans have come to expect. We can’t afford to lower safety standards, especially in an industry that’s responsible for close to 900 million air travelers per year.

Some airlines are already beginning to take advantage of these schemes, aiming to cut corners for their businesses even if it puts pilot jobs and passenger safety at risk. For example, one airline chose Ireland for its “headquarters” in order to take advantage of their lax labor and regulatory laws. The airline has a token presence in Ireland, and the pilots and crew who fly and maintain their planes come from as far away as Singapore.

Flags of convenience aren’t new. In the last century, the American maritime shipping industry was decimated by flags of convenience. In 1955, U.S. shipping carried 25 percent of the world’s tonnage. However, today the U.S. shipping industry accounts for just 2 percent of world tonnage. The industry, and those who depended on it, suffered as flags of convenience schemes proliferated.

We can’t let this happen to our airline industry, especially in Texas where American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are based, and where thousands of pilots and crews call home.

Thankfully, concerned lawmakers are fighting to prevent flags of convenience from becoming an industry norm. In April, nearly 400 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop flags of convenience. This bill, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4), contains the language from H.R. 2150, and prohibits the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from allowing airlines to obtain foreign air carrier permits unless they prove that the airline is not just doing so to avoid regulations. This also helps ensure that pilots and crew have more experience and are better compensated.

There is also broad support for H.R. 2150 among pilots in the industry. Just recently, seven unions and one trade association, representing over 100,000 pilots who fly for almost 50 commercial airlines — including American and Southwest Airlines pilots like us — joined together to urge the Senate to include this legislation in a forthcoming bill. It’s not just the pilots who are onboard; the Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, Gary C. Kelly, has voiced his support for H.R. 2150.

The House took action on this issue. Now, the U.S. Senate has the chance — and the responsibility — to protect not just Texas’ aviation jobs, but the entire American aviation industry. We urge our Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to stand up for Texas aviation workers and prevent flags of convenience.

Captain Marc Valadez, represents the Dallas Love Field-based pilots of Southwest Airlines. First Officer Rob Baker, represents the Dallas-Fort Worth-based pilots of American Airlines.