Scheduling draws pilot ire at NetJets

 - January 30, 2007, 5:04 AM

While the fractional providers said publicly that switching to the more stringent rules of Part 91 Subpart K on February 17 was a nonevent, a look behind the scenes at NetJets reveals a somewhat more chaotic transition. It appears that the duty-time and crew-rest limitations of the new rule threw a proverbial monkey wrench into operations.

Since mid-February, scores of NetJets pilots have been forced to sit idly at FBOs for their entire 14-hour duty day, even if there isn’t a company airplane available for them to fly. The unionized NetJets pilot workforce called the practice “punitive scheduling,” viewing it as retaliation for their rejection last fall of a tentative agreement that would have provided the company with more scheduling flexibility under the new 91K rules. NetJets management does not comment on negotiations and did not respond to AIN for this report.

At press time, the Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots, or ASAP (International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1108)–which represents the NetJets pilots–and company management had yet to finalize a temporary written agreement to limit stagnant time (which NetJets calls “crew rot”) at FBOs to six hours. The agreement, which will have an expiration date, also has provisions for standby duty at home or at hotels.

Still, what incensed the NetJets pilots most was that while many of them were idle at FBOs keeping chairs warm, the company was “selling off” flights–in other words, outsourcing work to charter companies, mainly to sister company Executive Jet Management (EJM)–on low-demand days in violation of the existing contract. The pilots have filed a class-action grievance regarding these sell-offs, and some in the ranks are speculating that the company is conducting trials to see if it could maintain normal operations if the pilots ever went on strike.

Contract Negotiations
The possibility of a strike draws closer each month. While the mediated negotiations that restarted in mid-February initially went well, management had not yet responded to several written proposals the union offered during those talks. At press time, the two parties were preparing to meet again, and an ASAP spokeswoman told AIN that the negotiating team is “optimistic yet realistic,” given that contract talks have thus dragged on for more than three years. She added, “There definitely could be a standoff over pilot pay.”

The once-a-month mediated sessions will end in June. If there’s no tentative agreement reached between the two sides by then, either the contract negotiations will be put on hold indefinitely or the pilots will be released for self-help after a 30-day cooling-off period. If the latter occurs, then the pilots could strike as early as late July.

On this note, ASAP told AIN that it has begun strike preparations, in case talks do go sour. A union spokeswoman said that “informational picketing” will begin this month at or around some FBOs, as well as other locations. Pilot representatives are also urging the rank-and-file to get their finances in order in case it comes to a strike.

Meanwhile, ASAP’s lawyers are filing for single-carrier status at NetJets. If the move is successful, it would have wide implications for the company by combining the pilot rosters at NetJets; NetJets International, the non-union arm that flies fractional Gulfstreams; and EJM. Pilots at the three operations would thus then be unionized under ASAP.