Capt. Anthony Zerafa, Master Executive Council chairman, right, and Capt. Thomas Vanden Berg on the ramp at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Like many of their peers in the fee-for-departure sector, the pilots of Compass Airlines are experiencing a state of transition. While the carrier’s fleet and route structure remain essentially stable, the airline continues to witness a revolving door of new-hire pilots coupled with veteran aviators moving on to mainline carriers.
“There are very few ‘lifers’ in our pilot ranks,” said Capt. Anthony Zerafa, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “It seems as if most of our pilots are intending to leave at some point.”
Not surprisingly, pilot turnover has influenced the very nature of the MEC’s work, from its successful campaign to convert first-year hiring bonuses into pilot pay rates in December 2015 to cosponsoring mainline pilot hiring workshops.
The workshops are an important aspect of career progression for the members of the pilot group and a priority for the MEC, noted Zerafa. “During the last six months, Capt. Tim Davis, the MEC vice chairman, has worked closely with Capt. Paul Ryder [ExpressJet] and F/O Karen Lacy [ExpressJet] from ALPA’s Fee-for-Departure Committee to coordinate five days of workshops for our members.” Zerafa, who’s been with Compass for four and a half years, added, “We’re doing our best to ensure that our members are properly prepared to take that next step.”
As further evidence of the change at Compass, the MEC, which operates with a single-council, seniority-block representation structure, has been attempting to expand from three to five block reps for almost two years. “We’re supposed to have 600 pilots off of probation before we can petition ALPA’s Executive Council to change our number of block reps, but we have yet to get there,” Zerafa remarked. To share some of the interim workload, the MEC created an executive administrator position and Zerafa, as the MEC chairman, quickly moved to appoint Capt. Graham Bostrom. However, Bostrom transitioned to Delta, and Capt. Thomas Vanden Berg is currently filling the role.
Turnover has also hampered the pilot group’s ability to maintain a consistent volunteer structure at times. Fortunately, new-hire pilots have stepped up to fill these vacancies. “Our new volunteers have made a tremendous difference,” Zerafa said.
To meet the staffing needs of the airline’s operation, Compass is holding one to two new-hire classes a month with 15 to 20 individuals per class. Most of these pilots end up living out of domicile, so to make their commutes easier to manage, the MEC negotiated a commuter hotel program. “Every pilot gets four hotel rooms a month in base, as long as the use of the room touches a day of work,” Zerafa explained.
To bring additional stability to the Compass pilot ranks, the MEC has engaged in a wide variety of projects and initiatives to improve the working lives of its members. Among these efforts, pilot volunteers have been testing a new Navtech preferential bidding system, and, in an effort to meet the unforeseen needs of its members, the MEC has been working on a Compass Pilot Relief Fund. Once established, the fund will serve as a resource members can turn to when faced with financial challenges that are the result of a life-altering event. Capt. Ryan Hollenbeck, the MEC secretary-treasurer, has been spearheading this process.
Compass has recently been advertising the success of its pilots in securing mainline jobs as a means to attract potential recruits. The company website notes that 100 of its pilots, within a year, successfully transitioned to Delta, FedEx Express, JetBlue, United, and other carriers. While this is good news, “the MEC continues to urge management to focus on quality-of-life issues for pilots flying for Compass as well as a more defined career path as keys to attracting new pilot candidates,” acknowledged Zerafa.