A CommutAir Bombardier Dash 8 sits on the tarmac at Washington Dulles International Airport.
In 2015, the pilots of CommutAir overcame significant challenges when the group negotiated and signed a new collective bargaining agreement.
Early that year, the regional airline—which operates Dash 8 turboprops for United Express in Cleveland, Ohio; Newark, N.J.; and Washington, D.C.—experienced the largest pilot exodus in recent history as pilots opted to leave for better opportunities at other carriers or other positions within the airline industry. However, things started looking up in August when the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) negotiated a new contract, well in advance of the previous agreement’s amendable date of Dec. 1, 2016. That milestone led to significant increases across the board in pilot compensation and quality-of-life improvements.
In addition to the new contract, CommutAir also signed a five-year capacity-purchase agreement with United Airlines to operate a fleet of Embraer 145 Regional Jets (ERJs). With these newly secured agreements, the pilot group saw class sizes increase to more than 25 pilots per month for the first time in its history.
“As a result of CommutAir’s new agreement to operate ERJ 145s as United Express in 2016, we had to exponentially grow our Training Department to facilitate this large step forward for the airline,” said Capt. Jeffrey Ciarcia, the pilots’ MEC chairman. Fourteen captains were selected for the initial cadre of pilots who would complete certification runs to bring the ERJs onto the property and train CommutAir’s pilots. On July 1, 2016, with an ERJ 145 flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Albany International Airport, CommutAir proudly joined the jet age.
Later in the year, CommutAir introduced the United Airlines Career Progression Program (CPP). “Our biggest highlight at CommutAir for 2016 was the implementation of our CPP to United. It’s very exciting to have so many of our friends and colleagues progressing in their careers,” said Ciarcia. “The CPP provides a career path to the flight deck of a United aircraft for CommutAir pilots who pass an interview and have the required time of service at CommutAir,” he added.
CommutAir’s first 10 pilots transitioned to United through the CPP in November and December last year. And through the CPP, 40 pilots will transfer to United in 2017, with 10 qualified pilots who meet the program’s requirements transitioning to United per quarter.
“We’re currently looking to the future to provide direct interview preparation for our members for their upcoming interviews with major airlines or for any other future career advancement,” said Ciarcia. “We want to provide the assistance that’s appropriate for our pilot group.”
CommutAir’s recent rapid growth has resulted in challenges for the pilot group, including the need for additional training. “But we’ve met these challenges head-on,” Ciarcia said. “We’ve been an extremely busy group, and we’re fortunate to have a new aircraft type as well as a growing pilot group.”
In 2016, the pilots also brought their mentor program to a new level, “particularly with regard to our new members. We want to ensure that our growing group maintains our culture and works well together,” remarked Ciarcia.
Looking ahead, the MEC expects the airline to experience hiring challenges in 2017. “It’s a reality we face, but we believe through continued improvements to our pilots’ quality of life and compensation, along with a positive career-progression mechanism, more pilots will hire on at CommutAir,” Ciarcia noted. “We also hope to maintain our culture and do everything we can to represent our pilots to the best of our ability.”