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American Airlines to use non-union pilots for some test flights, sparking criticism

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American Airlines Boeing 737-800

Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto via Getty Images

American Airlines will this month stop using union pilots to conduct some test flights, a move the Airmen Union says would reduce the independence of those exams.

Starting Thursday, American will only assign non-union company pilots to test planes that have been in long-term storage or have recently undergone heavy maintenance, before customers fly them. Previously, a group of specially trained union pilots performed the tasks with pilots from non-unionized companies.

This group of union test pilots was reduced to around six from 24 in 2016, as some left the union to become company technical pilots, retired or returned to air passengers, said American.

“Over the past five years, American has transferred its test flights to these skilled and expert pilots of the fleet in order to better manage the unpredictable nature of test flights, which are dictated by the completion of maintenance and not are not following a set schedule, ”American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said.

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But the Allied Pilots Association, which represents around 15,000 American pilots, is opposed to this measure.

“The foundation of AA’s strong safety culture has been a commitment to ensuring that independent, protected and uninhibited pilots perform these critical security check flights versus management pilots who may have a conflict of interest,” Eric Ferguson, a captain of American Airlines and APA. president, said in a message to members on Feb.19. “Any initiative to break this foundation will meet the strongest opposition from the APA.”

The union did not say there were imminent or specific safety risks or that the procedures did not meet federal standards.

American said his company’s pilots were already doing most of these flights and had received the same specialized training as union test pilots.

“In April, and in accordance with the collective agreement, we will centralize this flight, transferring it entirely to our fleet captains and technical pilots,” said US spokeswoman Jantz. “It is important to note that our expectations and standards will not change with this transition. We will continue to perform maintenance-related flight checks beyond FAA requirements with the same training using the same procedures and checklists. “

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American said it was discussing with the union ways to involve its pilots in this type of flight. Airline pilots represented by the union will continue to fly planes after they leave short-term storage before passengers board them.

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Jantz said the number of test flights or the bar to meet them will not change.

“Any aircraft removed from storage must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s maintenance manual and all applicable FAA regulations and airworthiness directives,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said in a statement.

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American said Monday that in the second quarter it plans to use most of the planes parked during the pandemic to meet growing travel demand.

The Allied Pilots Association has previously raised concerns about the flight test program, including with the Department of Transportation watchdog in 2017, alleging that there is a “culture of suppressing complaints about the matter. of security”.

In July 2018, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General said it conducted an audit that found that a Federal Aviation Administration inspector “lacked objectivity” in his review of the US safety program .

The FAA said it had implemented six of the watchdog’s seven recommendations, with the exception of one, which asked it to change the way it assesses inspectors’ objectivity to include issues potentials such as how long they review the same airline. The FAA said it had requested an extension until August.

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