Pilots' Perfect Storm

By Capt. Duane Woerth, ALPA President
Air Line Pilot, October 2004, p.5

In August, my wife and I were evacuated from our home in Tampa ahead of Hurricane Charley. Later, as I watched television coverage of the devastation from a friendís home inland, my thoughts returned to my duties as president of ALPA. I knew with certainty that, in the wake of such devastating destruction, the federal government would be there to provide necessary and legitimate assistance to the homeowners, property owners, and businesses that the storm had affected.

That is a very different story from how the Bush administration has dealt with the hurricane that has hit our industry the last few years. In fact, if you had tried to conjure up a "perfect storm" for pilots, you could not have come up with a more apt scenario than what we have experienced.

The storm broke on top of us, of course, with the terrible events of 9/11, when terrorists turned our airliners into weapons of mass destruction.

In the case of Hurricane Charley, the Bush administration quickly--and rightly--led the effort to get billions of dollars in aid to Florida. However, after 9/11, the same administration vigorously opposed any aid for the airline industry, claiming the industryís problems stemmed exclusively from labor costs.

Yes, Congress did override some of the administrationís opposition and passed two airline relief bills. But by seizing control of the $10 billion loan guarantee program and effectively killing 84 percent of it--only $1.6 billion was ever actually guaranteed--the President Bush effectively denied the aid Congress intended.

The result was that the barrier island Congress designed was never constructed, and the tidal wave hit pilots with full force.

Additional waves now wash over us. Even problems we thought were fixed four years ago now get worse every day. For example, air traffic control delays are more severe than ever, with no relief in sight, because record-setting budget deficits have destroyed the FAAís ATC modernization programs. Delays cost airlines an incredible $5 billion per year.

We need look no farther than Chicagoís OíHare International Airport to see our future under a second term of President Bush. The only solution the current administration proposes is to have United and American reduce their flight schedules at their most profitable and important hub. Thatís not a solution: itís suicide for network carriers.

Another worsening wave of the storm is the imposition of the unbelievable tax burden on the airline industry. Airline security is critical to our national defense, and general treasury monies, not excise taxes on airline tickets and cargo waybills, should pay for it. But with President Bush, no relief is in sight.

Fuel prices at record levels are yet another lightning bolt hitting airlines. Oil prices have essentially doubled since Bush took office, and when airline executives pleaded to the White House to either release the strategic oil reserves or to reduce jet fuel taxes, they were rebuffed.

And now, the mother of all tidal waves is bearing down on pilot families with the threat of pension and retiree healthcare-plan terminations. The Air Transportation Stabilization Board has made it virtually impossible for our carriers to get loans guaranteed without trashing current employee contracts, and our pilots have paid the price.

Remember, the Bush administration believes that everything is a labor cost problem.

John Kerry, on the other hand, believes that staggering fuel costs, ATC delays, and the unbelievably high tax burden--not labor costs--are killing our industry. He is committed to ensuring that no more airline pilots needlessly lose their pensions because of benign neglect of the executive branch of their government.

In the remaining weeks before the election, many issues will be debated on the airwaves and in print. But for airline pilots who hope to salvage their careers, a choice must be made, and facts must be faced. President Bush turned his back on airline pilots in our hour of need. A President Kerry will not!

On November 2, you can vote for a new flight plan, or you can vote to stay the course. Iím voting for a course correction.

s/Duane E. Woerth