In the two years since ExpressJet pilots rejected a concessionary tentative agreement in 2014, progress toward an acceptable joint collective bargaining agreement with merger partner Atlantic Southeast has continued at a slow pace. That changed in October 2015 when the company approached the Atlantic Southeast and ExpressJet Master Executive Councils (MECs) with a desire to explore short-term, nonconcessionary, separate contract extensions in lieu of a joint agreement.

The ExpressJet MEC, after carefully analyzing how a contract extension would alter the pilots’ strategic plan, is now engaged in regular, intense discussions with the company and is working to secure financial and quality-of-life improvements in the extension of Contract 2004.

“While our retirement, insurance, and long-term disability are the best in the fee-for-departure [FFD] market, our pilot group has not had a pay raise in more than five years,” said Capt. Dave Allen, the pilot group’s MEC chairman. “This extension will allow legacy ExpressJet pilots to keep the cornerstones of their contract as well as make financial gains. In addition, a ratified extension will create some stability at a time when stability is most important.”

Both the company and the MEC have been attempting to place ExpressJet in a favorable position in the ultra-competitive FFD market. After a series of leadership changes at both the upper management and MEC levels and following the pilot groups’ rejection of the tentative agreement in January 2014, the company began to make great strides toward improving its operational efficiency, performance, and relations with labor groups.

The improvements have worked, and ExpressJet has been ranked the top-performing regional carrier in terms of on-time arrivals and fewest customer complaints in recent Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Reports. And as of late November, legacy ExpressJet has also been the top-performing United Express carrier in terms of controllable flight completions for 16 straight months.

Despite the sluggish pace of negotiations throughout most of 2015, the MEC has worked diligently to improve the pilots’ current contract through a series of memorandums of understanding. These agreements have matched language in the contract to current FAR Part 117 interpretations, improved the process of receiving moving benefits following a base closure or displacement, and added language that supports the pilots’ use of their recently issued electronic flight bags. The MEC also reached an agreement with the company to implement an employment leave of absence that allows a pilot who leaves for a major or low-cost carrier to retain his or her seniority at ExpressJet for 60 days with the ability to easily return during that time.

The MEC also recently completed a three-month all-pilot test phase of the SmartPref preferential bidding system. During the test phase, pilots had the chance to “parallel bid” with SmartPref to compare schedules the system created to their actual schedules awarded through ExpressJet’s current line-bidding system. The SmartPref development process included negotiating work rules specific to the system. Pilots will eventually have the opportunity to vote on whether SmartPref will be implemented as the airline’s primary bidding system.

Despite the dramatic improvements the company made in the last year, 2015 didn’t come without some bad news for the pilots. Due to decisions made by its mainline partner, ExpressJet was forced to close its pilot domiciles in Denver, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Dulles, Va. The company also returned several E145s that were operating under unprofitable contracts with United.

This downsizing, however, placed ExpressJet in a favorable staffing position, which allowed it to accept 16 E145s from American Airlines to fly as American Eagle. ExpressJet opened a Dallas–Fort Worth, Tex., base in March to support this flying.

As ExpressJet looks to the future, both the company and the MEC continue to negotiate and explore options that will create the stability needed for ExpressJet to gain new flying and extend the contracts of the aircraft currently on the property. 

ExpressJet F/O Joe Mauro conducts a preflight safety check - ALPA
F/O Joe Mauro, the ExpressJet Pilot-to-Pilot chairman, conducts a preflight safety check.