FFD Pilot Leaders Convene for Group Meeting; Discuss Industry Growth, Challenges

ALPA at Work

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

Pilot leaders from ALPA’s fee-for-departure (FFD) pilot groups convened for an in-person FFD group meeting on October 19 to assess the dynamics and trends of this unique segment of the North American airline industry. Capt. Scott McCormick (PSA), ALPA’s FFD Committee chair, who moderated the one-day event, highlighted the group’s increasing presence within the union. “With the inclusion of our two Canadian FFD pilot groups—Jazz and WestJet Encore—and the return of ExpressJet, now aha! airlines, ALPA currently represents almost 12,000 FFD pilots,” he said.

In his opening remarks, McCormick talked about the growth of the FFD segment and the tremendous improvements made in pilot pay and compensation over the past 25 years. However, he also acknowledged the challenges FFD pilots have confronted, including significant reductions in operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, pilot attrition due to job growth at mainline partners as the industry recovers, and the ongoing turnover in ALPA’s FFD leadership ranks.

McCormick encouraged attendees to ask themselves as they listened to the meeting’s various presentations, “With so much positive change in recent years, is the FFD system of bidding for flying contracts still problematic for our members?”

“We’re your professional advocates in our nations’ capitals. We advocate on your behalf for sound aviation legislation,” said Elizabeth Baker, director of ALPA’s Government Affairs Department. In addition to outlining the work of the department, Baker spoke about the foreign pilot visa program, noting, “The decrease in airline operations has reduced the demand to outsource flying to pilots from other countries. Nonetheless, this issue has been on the radar for some time and it’s something we’re watching closely.”

Prior to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the U.S. government issued more than 230 E-3 and H-1B visas to foreign airline pilots, enabling them to fly for U.S. carriers, and the majority of these aviators have flown for FFD airlines.

Paul Karg, a manager in ALPA’s Economic & Financial Analysis Department, provided a financial forecast for the industry, observing, “The U.S. FFD domestic market is scheduled to fly approximately 83 percent of the block hours flown in November 2019.” By contrast, “WestJet Encore and Jazz are scheduled to fly approximately 60–67 percent of November 2019 Canadian domestic block hours in November 2021,” he said. Karg remarked that 2022 will likely be a recovery year and that aggregate capacity will exceed that of 2019. However, profits won’t be as strong due to weak pricing and cost inflation.

Capt. Rob Thomas (United), ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Human Factors & Training Group chair, stated that changes in the FFD industry due to the pandemic and other factors have led companies to “industrialize pilot training.” In addition to talking about pilot groups negotiating for needed training improvements, he raised concerns about the presence of direct-entry captains, expedited upgrades, and the reliance on distance learning. “We’re trying to address some of these concerns through the use of safety management systems and available ALPA resources,” Thomas said.

F/O Paul Ryder (United), ALPA’s national resource coordinator, reviewed the pilot ecosystem, including the supply of new pilot candidates and anticipated retirements. With current FFD pilot attrition levels, he discussed the development of a resiliency reporting tool to assess an MEC’s potential exposure to turnover within its elected offices and committees.

Ryder noted, “Local leaders can use an adapted version of the tool to conduct their own assessment of resiliency to staffing changes within local committees, ensuring that ALPA always maintains services at the ready, no matter the challenge.”

In addition to presentations, FFD pilot leaders briefed meeting participants on recent activities and trends at their respective carriers. Throughout the day, attending pilot leaders from Delta and United, many of whom are former FFD pilots, communicated their continued support for the group through Joint Standing Committees, career-progression programs, mentoring opportunities, and other networks.

Pilot Participation

If you’re one of ALPA’s nearly 12,000 fee-for-departure pilots and haven’t already done so, please contact your master executive council regarding opportunities to support and participate in the union. If you’re transitioning to another carrier, please take ALPA’s exit interview.

This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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