Speaking Wednesday at the 39th annual Regional Airline Association Convention in St. Louis, Republic Airways CEO Bryan Bedford called for a fundamental shift in the “model” on which pilot unions negotiate for compensation, characterizing the imbalance of pay between first officers and captains as irrational and counterproductive. Recently suffering a failure to reach an agreement with its Teamsters-represented pilots, Republic offered a 30-percent raise for new-hire first officers and as much as 50 percent for more senior copilots, said Bedford. Still, the pilots refused the offer, leaving Bedford in a precarious position as his company tries to avoid grounding more regional jets to cope with a shortage of qualified applicants for right-seat positions.
“[The] economics tend to get reallocated in the collective bargaining process to the left-seat pilots and essentially the message sent back to the first officers is you’ve got to pay your dues,” said Bedford. “I don’t think that model works and perhaps the next regional that figures out how to better rationalize pay between the two seats will be one of the winners in the future.”
Although Republic’s decision to park 27 small Embraer jets satisfied its need to account for the shortage of pilots this year, said Bedford, 2015 and 2016 could prove just as challenging, particularly if nothing changes in terms of the new legislation requiring ATP certificates for first officers. Asked to characterize the tenor of discussions between RAA board members and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta over revisiting an advisory rulemaking committee’s (ARC) recommendations before the rule took effect, Bedford reported some progress but he appeared less than wholly encouraged. “I’d characterize it as better today than meetings that we had even as recently as early February,” said Bedford. “I think there is a growing recognition that there is a problem, where back in February there was no recognition that there was a problem. There’s still a concern as to who owns the problem and who can fix the problem.”
In Bedford’s estimation the solution to the short-term part of the dilemma lies with Congress and its willingness to urge the FAA to implement the ARC’s recommendations. Second, he said, the RAA wants a “rethink” of what Bedford considers a misinterpretation of the term academic training. “That very narrow prescriptive definition that the FAA has taken we don’t think is consistent with the broader, ‘hey, lets recognize structured training—academic training—as opposed to unstructured, just going around flying, wherever that may be,’” he explained.
Finally, the long-term solution must involve addressing economic realities. “I think the regional airline industry owns a piece of that, I think the major airline industry owns a piece of that, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to make it a more economically viable career option for people,” he concluded.