A CommutAir Embraer 145XR awaits departure at Memphis International Airport.
“CommutAir pilots are very excited to get to the bargaining table later this year,” said Capt. Earl Blowers, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. The pilots’ collective bargaining agreement becomes amendable on Dec. 1, 2019, and the pilot group can begin negotiations 90 days prior to that date.
“We’ll be preparing for negotiations for most of the year so that we’re 100 percent ready to begin talks with the company,” noted Blowers. “Quality-of-life issues for our pilots will be at the forefront.” Therefore, the Negotiating Committee will focus on reworking the scheduling section, especially in areas such as reserve rules and extensions. These changes will improve morale, maintain high operational performance, ensure continued growth, and protect overall pay. The MEC is prepared to advance talks for higher quality of life and favorable contract rules to meet the need to sustain growth and bolster staffing levels.
Meanwhile, the MEC and Negotiating Committee are already working to make quality-of-life improvements now by negotiating grievance settlements and letters of agreement (LOA). One such LOA has involved working to improve communication between flight crews and company scheduling. As the company seeks to improve reliability, pilot representatives work to find balance between efficiency and operational challenges encountered by the pilot group.
One improvement for the pilot group has been the recent implementation of electronic flight bags and an LOA governing their use. As one of just a few pilot groups still using paper charts and manuals, CommutAir pilots welcome the quality-of-life enhancement of no longer having to carry heavy flight cases—a positive change in the face of continuous technological improvements and industry standards.
On the hiring front, the airline, along with the other fee-for-departure carriers, continues to face challenges. Competitive hiring at other airlines exacerbates the struggle to increase staffing levels. Recruiting efforts may have provided a net gain, but these gains have been offset by CommutAir pilots advancing to United Airlines via the Career Path Program (CPP). United’s pathway for pilots has shown results while also moving high-seniority crews.
Since its inception two years ago, the CPP has allowed at least 40 CommutAir pilots to advance to careers at United Airlines. More pilots are expected to take part in the program once they achieve the required flight time and longevity goals and United’s hiring windows open. CommutAir pilots are entitled to represent 10 percent of United’s new-hire classes—but not to exceed 10 percent of the pilot group’s seniority list. The good news is that CommutAir isn’t holding pilots back from moving up to United.
In January 2018, the airline retired its Dash 8s, leaving the carrier with a fleet of Embraer 145XRs. The airline has increased its Embraer fleet to 30 aircraft, with deliveries expected to total 40 aircraft and the possibility of 60 in the coming years.
With negotiations on the horizon and additional aircraft coming to the airline, CommutAir pilots look forward to continued growth and improvements in the upcoming year.