An Atlantic Southeast CRJ900 sits at the airline’s hangar in Atlanta, Ga.
On Dec. 14, 2016, SkyWest, Inc., the parent company of Atlantic Southeast, announced plans to phase out the 52 CRJ200s from the Atlantic Southeast fleet by the end of 2017. This devastating phaseout nearly halves the airline’s current fleet and brings into question the careers of hundreds of pilots. The pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) responded quickly to the news, providing information within hours of the announcement. As this issue goes to press, additional plans for a cohesive response to the phaseout are in the works.
“Although we’re troubled by the announcement, in no way does this change or lessen our commitment to our pilots,” said Capt. Tony Middendorff, the pilot group’s MEC chairman. “The MEC will continue to press for a secure future for our pilots. We’ve overcome many challenges in our long history of service to this airline, and we’ll do the same here.”
During 2016, the pilots weathered a continued period of uncertainty with the utmost level of dedication and professionalism—and achieved some notable success. In February, the MEC presented Letter of Agreement (LOA) 15 to the pilot group for ratification. This LOA was the result of an agreement between the Atlantic Southeast and ExpressJet MECs and management to temporarily suspend negotiations for a joint collective bargaining agreement and instead pursue individual extensions of each pilot group’s collective bargaining agreements. LOA 15 brought numerous improvements to pay, scheduling, and quality of life for Atlantic Southeast pilots but still left much to be determined regarding the pilots’ long-term future.
The largest threat to the future success and stability of the pilot group continues to be competition from SkyWest, Inc., which in addition to Atlantic Southeast and ExpressJet also operates the nonunion carrier SkyWest Airlines.
In 2016, Atlantic Southeast continued to shrink in both number of pilots and aircraft, while SkyWest enjoyed unprecedented growth. SkyWest continues to aggressively hire pilots, while Atlantic Southeast fails to fill classes and cannot outpace attrition. SkyWest enjoys new, next-generation aircraft and overall fleet growth, while Atlantic Southeast aircraft are swapped for older airplanes or exit the fleet entirely, only to be reacquired and operated by SkyWest. Atlantic Southeast pilots also painfully witnessed firsthand as SkyWest simultaneously opened a pilot domicile and maintenance facility in Detroit, Mich., directly competing with an established Atlantic Southeast pilot domicile while reducing the airline’s flying out of Detroit and closing the station’s line maintenance. This coincided with the airline’s flying out of Detroit being pushed to New York’s LaGuardia International Airport or eliminated altogether. The pilot group continues to be alarmed by the continued growth of SkyWest at the expense of any growth or future opportunity for Atlantic Southeast pilots.
“The Atlantic Southeast MEC and pilot group continue to be concerned by the threats presented by SkyWest,” noted Middendorff. “The disproportionate hiring at SkyWest is especially worrisome. While we struggle to add new pilots and keep up with our attrition rates, SkyWest continues to fill new classes. We also watch our aircraft growth stagnate as SkyWest acquires our planes, and we get older aircraft. Our growth and future prospects are being diminished—and sometimes altogether eliminated—by SkyWest.”
Although Atlantic Southeast pilots have seen marginal gains in pay, scheduling, and quality of life through continued negotiations with management, the largest issue facing the pilot group is an uncertain future, according to Middendorff. The continued loss of aircraft, challenges in pilot recruitment, and full-scale corporate neglect from SkyWest, Inc. present an unsustainable future for the Atlantic Southeast pilot group. The MEC continues to engage the company on a multitude of paths to provide a stable, long-term future for the dedicated and professional pilot group.
“This MEC has made a commitment to every pilot on this property, whether they’ve been here for decades or are new hires,” Middendorff said. “It’s a commitment that we’ll continue to uphold. Despite the challenges, we’re working tirelessly to ensure a future for this pilot group.”