Pilots flex newfound muscle to block AA commuter plan

 - April 3, 2007, 8:00 AM

A federal arbitrator’s ruling to award the Allied Pilots Association $23.2 million for American Airlines’ scope-clause violations appears to have achieved its desired effect.
This time unwilling to ignore the objections of its pilots union, in late May American had to cancel plans to add service via American Connection partner Corporate Airlines to five small and medium-size communities from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, leaving three of the proposed destinations with no scheduled air service whatsoever.

American had asked for APA members to grant a waiver to allow the flights under the American Connection code, but they refused. As a result, a consortium of regional airports established two years ago by September will lose a $1.2 million federal grant specifically issued to attract air service to the region. Since Mesa Air Group pulled Jetstream 31 service provided by its now dissolved CCAir subsidiary in April 2002, Pinehurst, Hickory and Kinston, N.C., remain unserved. New Bern and Fayetteville get Dash 8 service from US Airways subsidiary Piedmont Airlines, but the consortium hoped the competition would lower ticket prices.

The refusal by American’s pilots came as another settlement between the union and management set new limits on hub-based RJs at American Eagle if American Airlines cuts service, and adds Boston to its list of those cities. The deal also grants the pilots certain job-protection guarantees related to American’s code-share contract with Alaska Airlines.

APA leaders characterize all the progress as validation of a new collaborative process CEO Gerard Arpey has championed lately. Of course, the $23.2 million award hasn’t hurt the pilots’ position, as the airline appears less willing to ignore the rules. The settlement, which the company paid on May 25, arose out of grievance filed by the APA in late 2001, after the airline awarded American Connection flights to Chautauqua and Trans States, even though the scope clause called for American to freeze any regional jet growth at affiliate airlines while mainline pilots remained on furlough. In an effort to circumvent the contract, American changed the American Connection code to AX and began awarding those airlines Embraer regional jet flying out of St. Louis.