ABX Senior Captain Who Questioned Alternate Airport Choice Loses Job

 - August 6, 2012, 4:45 PM
An ABX Air senior captain lost his job on July 20 after a disagreement about the alternate airport the company had planned for a revenue flight between Osaka and Shanghai.

After a disagreement about the alternate airport the company had planned for a revenue flight between Osaka Airport, Japan (RJOO) and Shanghai, China (ZSPD), a senior ABX Air captain no longer has his job. Teamsters Local 1224, representing ABX pilots, filed suit July 31 to contest the termination.

The Boeing 767 captain, a 27-year ABX veteran with more than 25 years as a captain, noticed during his preflight planning that the alternate listed on the dispatch release did not match anything in the aircraft's FMS database. Local 1224 president Dan Wells told AIN, "While ABX procedures allow for the manual entry of waypoints, that procedure applies only to flight in domestic airspace."

ABX Air allows the customer to choose the alternate it wants, which in this case was not in the FMS database, causing the captain some discomfort. After discussions with dispatch in the U.S., as well as the chief pilot, the 767 captain invoked captain's authority [FAR 121.537] and insisted that an alternate that could be found in the database be used. The dispatcher and the chief pilot disagreed and chose an alternate that required offloading 14,000 to 16,000 pounds of the customer's cargo. The 767-200 on the flight in question was capable of carrying a maximum of approximately 90,000 pounds of cargo. Wells told AIN the final weight-and-balance on this flight showed the aircraft departing Osaka approximately 14,000 pounds below maximum takeoff weight. 

Wells also told AIN that while pilots do their best to carry all cargo, "offloading some payload to maintain appropriate safety levels is quite normal." Part of the 767's fuel indicating system was also noted as inoperative before takeoff.

Wells said the captain quickly became the focus of ABX disciplinary action and was fired on July 20, for refusing to sign a letter acknowledging the error of his decision not to accept the original alternate airport in the flight plan. During the disciplinary meeting after the event, the captain was told that payload had been bumped, but Wells said the company never offered the pilot or the union any documentation to substantiate that assertion.

ABX management issued a letter to all company pilots last week, before notifying the captain he'd been terminated. The union asserts that this communication was intended to have a chilling effect on captain's authority. Wells said, "What worries us the most is that the captain was fired for making this decision. Why else would the company send out that letter other than to scare pilots into making the decision [the company would regard as] right in the future?"

"The allegations in the news release sent by Teamsters Local 1224 [about this captain's firing] are pretty much unfounded. But this is also a personnel issue now and we can't comment any further on the specifics," an ABX AIR spokesman told AIN.



Non-Pilots making safety of flight, "Pilot Decisions" from behind the accountants desk. You can't sue anyone for damages until some middle manager becomes the enabler. Thanks,

Every NTSB report includes those little things prior to the flight, that when added together spell disaster. ABX management's bodies are never pulled from wreckage after a group of bad decisions.

The message from ABX to its pilots is clear: "You'll be terminated if you don't follow our orders". The govern by terror! that's why they sent that letter to the pilots. If an accident happens now we know wher to look for the responsables.

Well once again, Management is responsible for interfering with pilot's final authority of the intended flight; I respect that Captain for sticking to his beliefs, and hope his action will be admired by other pilots

Larry - I'm sorry, but the Chief Pilot and Director of Operations have every right to make safety decisions! They're are both pilots. Dispatchers have to take the ATP written, and go through classes to get their certificate.

Dispatchers fly DESKS in offices. 14 CFR 91.3 says tat the the pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft. The captain is GOD.

"the captain is GOD" Not really... CRM comes to mind. I think an FO has a right question the safety of a flight. Also, a Dispatcher (who also has a certificate on the line) has the right to look out for him/her self. If we're going to set this attitude of "the PIC is GOD", then how do you explain Operational Control? 14 CFR 121.537 (c) (b) "The pilot in command and the director of operations are jointly responsible for the initiation, continuation, diversion, and termination of a flight in compliance with this chapter and the operations specifications...” Yes management does have a say in what goes on.

Blake - you cite the rule correctly, but you fail to interpret it properly. Yes, 121 operational control is a shared responsibility between the dispatcher and the PIC. However, you'll note that BOTH parties must consent to the initiation of a flight. There is no language that specifies that a PIC must take off with an airplane even if the dispatcher insists. In this instance, the dispatcher and the company officials had no standing to override the PIC's decision to refuse to depart with the data the company had provided. He is entirely within his right to request an amended release.

The dispatcher's primary authority lies in preventing a flight from taking off in the first place, or recommending a diversion or termination of a flight once it is in the air.

The question I have is, why that one airplane didn’t have the correct company data? Wonder if this was an issue in the past? Who knows.. But it was in the flight planning software, for the release. They could have swapped airplanes, if that was even a possibility.

I think the regs outline what the dispatcher can and can't do. I don't think it say anything about preventing a plane from flight taking off.

We had a PIC do an air return back, without talking to dispatch, had they not declared an emergency (which it was), the PIC would had his certificates revoked. The feds were on it like white on rice


In a sense you’re right. But I can’t agree 100%.

Sure management is responsible to the company’s owners for equipment and keeping customers happy and coming back. And sure they can cancel trip and set them up where necesary. Without that, there wouldn’t be any routes for pilots to fly.

However, when it comes to a managment pilot assessing a situation 10,000 miles away I disagree. Our regs sare set up to give that PIC the final authority on the ground or in the air. They may have some serious explaining to do when they land, but that rule exists for PICs to use when they think they’re privvy to something the other folks are not.

And If ABX really believes this pilot was so wrong to disagree with dispatch, then why not change the ops manual to allow manual entry of airports outside of domestic airspace so pilots are forced to choose between violating company policy – the Ops Manual – or appearing to disobey a management pilot’s wishes. Instead they write what sounded like a pretty threatening letter.

My understanding of the situation was that the chief pilot kept asking the captain if he would make the trip, “Yes” or “No.” The captain kept trying to explain the area was gray and no one would listen.

That sure sounds gray to me.

But to then fire a guy who had no previous discipline issues in a 27-year career. That would make anyone question management, I think. 

I was saying in gerneral.

I'm not agreeing with management, because if this alternate was legal, why wasn't in the FMS. It makes me wonder if its even in the Ops Specs. The letter didn't make matters better. My issue is, how can you have Operational Control of a flight with only the PIC making the decisions? Whats the point of having Dispatch or SOC? Its my belief the pilot and dispatcher have to agree before that flight is dispatched, both have to sign the release. I'll tell you this, It will be up to management like the DO and Chief Pilot, to make changes to those Ops Manuals, because management has to "vote" on those changes.

The people who shold lose their job over this are the Chief Pilot and the dispatcher involved. Hopefully the Captain also filed a letter with the FAA.

You are misunderstanding the term "operational control". As a PIC I cannot just show up at the airport and hop into the cockpit of my A320 and go where I want. The company exercises operational control by telling me where and when to go.

As the PIC it is my responsibility and authority to make sure that the desires of the company are safe and executable with what equipment and planning I have been given. I do not think that this captain had an issue in doing the job, it was whether the alternate could be used without the REQUIRED information on-board.

Would you stand up for the captain if it were a passenger flight and your family were onboard?

What’s also very odd about this tale is that ABX is junior-manning captains to fly. Want to whack some pilot over the knuckles when you don’t all agree, that’s fine. But why yank another captain out of the schedule when you’re short of pilots anyway?

It is a pilots responsibility to make decisions.

It appears to me from the article that ABX is more concerned with conformitry than dsecisions made at the point usage for the aircraft.

We have seen when pilots follow mangement wishes to keep schedule rather than do another de-icing proceedure that would delay schedule that he is responsible if the aircraft crashes. We have also been told that late departures and arrivals can be costly to a pilots career. The decision to follow management wishes can sometimes be fatal.

With todays tighter flight corridors and the capability of the FMS systems today why wouldn't he be allowed to manually enter the alternate destination if that is the commanded alternate?

What part of the 767’s fuel indicating system was also noted as inoperative before takeoff? Is it acceptable to management to fly with an inoperative fuel indicating system but not acceptable to use best flight path for an alternate?

I may not have all of the data ABX used nfor the termination, but it seems to me that there are a lot questions that ABX should take into consideration before terminating a pilot who was willing to make a judgement call.

May management never be in an aircraft where the pilot has to contact management to get their approval to think outside the box because there are no instructions for the condition the aircraft, i.e. Sioux City Iowa.

I flew for Airborne Express for over 18 years, 15 of them as a DC-8 Captain. Fear and intimidation has always been this companies method of doing business with flight crews. It is very common knowledge among the industry. Remember Capt. Charlie Rodenberg was fired for refusing to take a DC-8 from IAD to ILN after maintenance R & R'd an aileron! It took several years to finally get something in writing about maintenance functional check flights. None of us will ever forget The Narrows, Virginia crash that killed the crew and two passengers who were doing stalls at night in IMC and icing conditions after heavy maintenance. That crew was Ufford trained and did what he said and it cost them their lives. Same story here guys, this company will fire you in a heartbeat for no good reason just to cause a law suit and see who else will bend under the pressure they throw out.

Doug! Sorry to do this on here but I've been trying to find you for a couple years. Email me your contact info @ rfalvey2@aol.com.

From the ABX Air website, if you're ready for a good laugh:

Our People
Our employees, customers, shareholders, and communities are vitally important to our success. We always will strive to keep them informed through open and honest two-way communications. At ABX Air our people make a difference through hard work, ingenuity, personal accountability, and a spirit of teamwork.

We are serious about safety. Our objective is to be 100 percent accident free. We care for one another and always practice safe work habits. No person will be put at risk to achieve our goals.

We will maximize our results by working together to serve our customers and achieve overall company success. Whenever necessary, we will help each other and do whatever it takes to safely get the job done and build a strong, stable company.

What a load of crap.

Wasn't a bad place to work until Stinkovich came on the property. VP of Union Busting.

P.S. Hey Doug! Fancy meeting you here. Hope retirement is treating you well.

And how can what you told us here possibly be any good for keeping the company up and running Doug? Pilots under that kind of scrutiny are bound to make mistakes are they not?

And what’s Ufford … a person or a place? Can you elaborate a bit?

The pilot's Union has now the responsability for safety in this company,
guild now has to take strong measures and reply immediately to the management.
I am sure the desicion to fire this Captain was taken only to show their power and scare the pilots, it's the beginning of a limitation to Captains to make safe decisions since the treath of firing is there.

It is beyond fixing. Relatively efficient use of their assets is essential to profitability, especially for a niche market provider like ABX. Flying their jets at less than capacity increases costs and does not serve their customers. Cooperation from the pilots on mission planning would help optimization, but if suspicion and antagonism is promoted, fuggetaboutit. If I understand this dispute right, selection of a different alternate airport allowed dispatch of a fully loaded 767 with acceptable fuel minumums. This airport was capable for the task, but not in the company data base. The pilot used this fact to tweak the dispatcher, who I'm assuming had a personal history with this pilot, and the disagreement became a federal case. The dispatcher had the more reasonable argument (complying with regs at lower cost), so the pilot got the discipline. Howm' I doin'?

What I find really interesting about this corner ABX seems to have boxed itself into is that both the captain in question and the union have asked to see paperwork that shows any cargo was ever off-loaded in this situation at all. To my knowledge, the company has not produced anything.

So then in the end, this does look like just what some of you here seem to be saying. The company appears to have taken advantage of this event to make a stand about who is really in charge. 

Obviously it was not these two pilots.

The issue at hand is not the concept of operational control (authority to initiate, conduct and terminate a flight) or internal company disciplinary actions, but of safety, preflight planning, and compliance with federal aviation regulations, operations specifications, and ABX procedures contained the general operations manual.

The first question is whether the alternate airport chosen by the company and listed on the dispatch release met all company, ops specs, and regulatory requirements with regards to runway length, available approach navaids, weather minimums, fuel reserves, distance off route, available ground facilities, etc. In other words, was it a legal alternate airport given the proposed operation? If it was not, then the dispatch release becomes evidence for a potential enforcement action.

The second question is in the event of a diversion, could the aircraft (with regards to its current status, i.e., functioning (non-MEL'd) equipment on board, FMS database coverage areas, etc.) reasonably be expected to navigate to the alternate, execute an approach (either IMC or VMC) and land safely?

If the answer to above two questions is in the affirmative, then the allegation that the alternate airport listed on the dispatch release did not match anything in the aircraft’s FMS database appears irrelevant UNLESS ABX procedures specifically prohibit the manual entry of waypoints outside of domestic airspace.

However, the statement: “While ABX procedures allow for the manual entry of waypoints, that procedure applies only to flight in domestic airspace" implies such a restriction, the converse (that it specifically prohibits such an manual entry outside domestic airspace) is not necessarily true.

Nevertheless, most general operations manuals allow the Chief Pilot, Director of Operations or Director of Maintenance to authorize deviations from company procedures. (Such as the manual entry of waypoints outside domestic airspace.)

In stark contrast, during flight time (generally regarded as after push back), FAR 121.537 (d) states "the pilot in command has full control and authority in the operation of the aircraft, without limitation."

Further, FAR 91.3 (a) states: "the pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft."

NTSB has a long established precedent of affirming the final authority of the Pilot in Command in enforcement cases brought by FAA. For profit aviation companies do not.

Chris states "For profit aviation companies do not."

There is a degree of contempt that somehow the profit motive is at odds with the safety mission. It seems that our current culture demonizes those whom have been entrusted to operate companies profitably. I don't understand this. Profitability is essential for the survival of any business or business sector.

For the record, I am a pilot, I am also a businessman. Safety does not have to be compromised for profits. The two can exists side by side.

Anybody remember the shuttle Challenger?

Who took the blame there?

IMHO the people at the pointy end should always have the last word.

Ret. DAL non pilot.

Having flown as an ABX DC-8 crewmember for 20 years, I can fully understand the companies attitude in this ....CONTROL. They want it, they need it, they MUST have it. Whatever it takes to achieve total control, they will do. As a PFE, I flew with the Captain involved many times, and I can vouch for his desire to make every flight safe, and successful. He was a stickler for rules, c/w company procedures, and standardization. Another Captain, using his authority as to jump seaters, bumped two VP's in SEA, trying to get to ILN. When he asked for their FAA certificates, they, of course, had none. On arrival in ILN, he had to explain to management his decision to bump them. The company told him that they decided who would ride the jumpseats, not the Captain, and published a letter for all crewmembers stating their position. It's all about control.