Air Transport International

Air Transport, Internationaln Pilots
An Air Transport International B-767-300 in Prime Air livery prepares to touch down.

Despite a rocky end to 2016, 2017 provided some added stability for the pilots of Air Transport International (ATI). The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Airline Division asked the National Mediation Board (NMB) to determine whether ABX Air, Inc. and ATI—both wholly owned subsidiaries of the Air Transport Services Group, Inc. (ATSG)—“constitute a single transportation system for the purposes of representation of the crewmembers [pilots and flight engineers].”

The Teamsters, which represents ABX pilots, contended that although ATSG operates the two airlines separately, they work in the same segment of the air cargo industry and serve the same primary customers. ALPA, like ATI and ABX management, disagreed with the Teamsters’ assertion, pointing out that there is no integration of operations, labor relations, or financial control between the two carriers. The NMB sided with ALPA and management by dismissing the case in May 2017.

“We also noted that ATI and ABX have two distinct operating certificates,” said Capt. Tom Rogers, the ATI pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “We’re happy that this is behind us so that we can refocus our attention on contract negotiations.”

The tone of the latest round of negotiations, which began in 2014, took a positive turn in spring 2016 when ATI secured a new customer. Amazon Fulfillment Services approved a five- to seven-year deal with ATSG to provide air cargo transport. In addition to support for the Air Mobility Command (U.S. Air Force), DHL, and its other existing clients, ATI began flying Amazon Prime Air Flights.

Management and labor soon returned to the bargaining table, and in 2017 hammered out most of the remaining contractual issues. However, scope, line construction, retirement and insurance, and compensation remained stumbling blocks for the two parties, and in July 2017 ALPA petitioned the NMB requesting mediation. The agency agreed, and a mediator was assigned with meeting dates scheduled for February 2018.

“The situation at ATI greatly improved with the Amazon Prime Air flying,” remarked Rogers, noting that the carrier continues to grow in fleet size and number of pilots. However, ATI pilots are paid well below industry standards. “Offering competitive salaries and benefits will be critical to ensuring that our pilots don’t leave to fly for better-paying airlines. We need to improve our compensation package if we’re going to attract and retain the workforce we need.”

At the beginning of last year, Amazon announced plans to construct a $1.5 billion services hub for Amazon Prime Air at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. ATI moved its Wilmington, Ohio, cargo operation there, using DHL facilities until the construction is complete. The move created some initial scheduling challenges, but these have since been ironed out.

The carrier has also been facing some other challenges, including the number of new hires and rapid upgrades to captain. While these changes represent opportunities for ATI crewmembers, the level of experience or “time in seat” has recently been declining. The MEC responded last summer with a new mentoring program designed to help bridge these gaps. Union pilot volunteers wearing orange ATI MEC Mentoring Team lanyards are now available to answer line, loading, scheduling, and other operational
questions.

In addition, the pilot group has begun publishing Common Ground, a quarterly safety newsletter to highlight operational trends from ATI’s ASAP, which encourages nonpunitive voluntary reporting of safety issues and events to limit/prevent future accidents and incidents, to support the airline’s Safety Management System.

Rogers remains upbeat about the progress ATI has made in recent years. “Our pilots are reasonably happy, and we have a generally positive relationship with management,” he observed. “We don’t file a lot of grievances, and we have great clients. However, we need to nail down this contract to meet our operational needs and attract and retain pilots to secure the future of our carrier,” he added.