Air Transport International

Air Transport International Pilots
A B-767-300F flown by Air Transport International pilots arrives at the Amazon Air hub in Wilmington, Ohio. (Photo: Capt. Christian Padilla [Air Transport International])

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the aviation landscape, dramatically increasing demand for Air Transport International’s freighter operations. As a result, the airline experienced increased growth to accommodate additional routes and capacity from Amazon, DHL, and other customers. The Air Transport International pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) faced this challenge head-on by bargaining several memorandums of understanding (MOUs) that addressed the operating environment under COVID-19, all while beginning Section 6 negotiations in this new environment.

“We began Section 6 in a time of unknown potential,” said Capt. Mike Sterling, the pilot group’s MEC chair and lead negotiator. “Now that we’ve seen the tremendous growth of our airline and the investments our partners have made in us, this MEC is focused on achieving a contract equal to the value the pilots provide.”

In addition to managing this significant growth, in 2021 the MEC focused on COVID-19 protections and vaccination incentive programs for the pilots. “Ensuring the pilot group’s health and safety is a top priority for the MEC,” said Sterling, who added that several MOUs were created to address the changing COVID-19 environment as the vaccine rolled out.

Guided by the direction of the Contract Study Committee and input from pilot surveys, the Contract Negotiating Committee (CNC) exchanged openers for Section 6 negotiations in June 2020. Work continued throughout 2021 with regular bargaining sessions between the CNC and management, virtually or in person when able to do so safely.

The CNC with the agreement of management has pursued bargaining in four distinct phases to facilitate a productive dialogue: Phase I includes primarily administrative sections that both sides can move through relatively quickly; Phase II includes work rules and moderately contentious items; Phase III includes economic items, as well as complex work rules that have an economic impact; and Phase IV includes cleanup and implementation items. The CNC has completed Phases I and II, and has been utilizing interest-based bargaining to assist with finding solutions to some of the more difficult issues, making steady progress in Phase III.

Section 6 discussions were temporarily paused in fall 2021, however, to focus on COVID-19 vaccine mandate protections. The MEC and CNC were able to reach an agreement with the company to secure protections for the pilots related to the COVID-19 vaccination mandate, including an adverse-reaction clause, an option to take personal leave rather than face termination for pilots who don’t wish to get vaccinated, and pay incentives for pilots who are vaccinated or get vaccinated.

Despite the MEC’s success in negotiating COVID-19 vaccine protections, the ability to attract pilot volunteers to help staff and expand MEC committees has been a major challenge in 2021. Additional workload brought about by the pandemic, along with a large number of probationary pilots due to a hiring spree, has hindered the ability to grow the committee structure. The MEC successfully launched a Pilot-to-Pilot program and continues to recruit volunteers to fill vacant positions on key committees as quickly as possible.

“With so many more pilots to serve, we’re looking to expand our volunteer rosters to provide the services and resources our pilots need,” Sterling said.

“Pilot hiring is expected to continue in 2022, and the MEC will continue to expand our committees and resources to provide the best possible support for our pilots,” added Sterling.