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.