An iAero B-737 on the runway at Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport.
The pilots of iAero Airways hold a unique and exciting position in the airline industry. Each day, they work well outside of the hub-and-spoke scheduling model in a variety of operational environments flying a fleet of B-737s and a B-767.
In 2019, iAero Group acquired Swift Air and rebranded it iAero Airways, an aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance operator. After two years of significant growth, iAero pilots reached out to ALPA about becoming members. “This was precipitated by years of poor scheduling processes and abuses, poor treatment by management, lack of consistent work rules, substandard pay, a recruiting and training model that was just good enough to meet legal standards, and a lack of a just safety culture,” said Capt. Nathan Furrh, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair.
In spring 2020, as COVID-19 became a global crisis, “Our organizing efforts stalled, as ALPA focused its efforts on the pandemic’s effect on its members and the airline industry,” Furrh explained. “Throughout the next 12 months, we faced many challenges. However, to management’s credit, it kept pilots flying and worked to minimize the pandemic’s impact on the pilot group.”
During this time, iAero acquired a significant contract providing lift for DHL, which expanded operations by 10 aircraft. In addition, the carrier gained contracts for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense. It also added three more National Hockey League (NHL) teams and two Major League Baseball (MLB) teams to its list of clients. “Meanwhile, pilot resolve to join ALPA increased due to management’s lack of acknowledgement of the pilots’ dedication and hard work, without which the carrier wouldn’t have successfully fulfilled these contracts,” acknowledged Furrh.
One year later, ALPA reengaged with the pilot group for a representation drive. “The pilots’ Organizing Committee faced the challenges of losing volunteers, underhanded management tactics, and pilots working right up to the legal maximum flight and duty hours almost every rotation,” Furrh remarked. Despite these challenges, the pilots prevailed and on May 17, 2022, the National Mediation Board certified ALPA as the bargaining agent for the pilot group. With 74 percent of eligible pilots participating in the election, 71 percent voted in favor of joining the Association.
In late 2022, a nomination and election campaign for permanent officers was conducted and the interim status reps/officers, Furrh, MEC chair; F/O Ben Liebhaber, MEC vice chair; and Capt. Marc Haberern, secretary-treasurer, were installed as permanent status reps/officers in October for the term ending Feb. 28, 2025.
“iAero has grown from 17 aircraft to 44 in just over three years, and it’s time that pilots have a seat at the table to work with management in addressing pilot staffing, training, and operational issues,” said Furrh. “We want to collaborate with management to ensure the longevity and success of iAero Airways and the success of our pilot group now and into the future.”
The carrier is the primary lift provider for the NHL, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. iAero is also the largest charter airline in the U.S, flying flights for major touring pop/rock music acts, MLB teams, the U.S. Defense Department, several vacation tour operators in both the U.S. and Cuba, DHL Express cargo, and the Czech airline group Smartwings. In spring 2022, the carrier received FAA approval to operate the B-767, which is now used to charter the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets.