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December 20, 2002
ALPA Wins Court Reinstatement of Pilot Terminated for Following FAA Rules on Rest Requirements
WASHINGTON, D.C.---A U.S. District Court has ordered Pan American Airways to reinstate with back pay a pilot whom it had terminated for refusing to violate FAA rules that mandate minimum rest requirements.
The ruling ends nearly two years of legal wrangling by the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based airline to avoid reinstatement of the terminated pilot despite repeated rulings against it in grievance and court proceedings brought by the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents the pilot.
The dispute began on Jan. 3, 2001 when Pan Am management immediately terminated Capt. Don Simonds for refusing to take an assigned flight upon his belief that the assignment would cause him to violate a Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR 121.471(b), the "16-hour rule"), as interpreted by the FAA’s "Whitlow letter."
Because Capt. Simonds did not specifically claim to be fatigued – which is irrelevant to compliance with this rule – and because Pan Am disputed the FAA’s interpretation of the 16-hour rule set forth in the FAA’s November 20, 2000 "Whitlow letter," management claimed that Capt. Simonds was insubordinate for not following the company’s orders and the "fly now, grieve later" principle.
FAA rules require that before starting a flying assignment, a pilot must be able to determine that when he finishes that flight, he will have received eight hours rest in the previous 24 hours. The "Whitlow letter" refers to an interpretation issued by the FAA stating that the end of the 24-hour cycle must be calculated using the expected arrival time based on the flight segment as calculated at that moment ("actual time"). The industry had claimed that the arrival time should be the time as originally scheduled. The problem is that delays, a frequent occurrence in airline operations, could extend the pilot’s work time well past the originally scheduled arrival time, which means that when he finishes the last flight segment, he may not have gotten the required eight hours rest in the preceding 24 hours.
ALPA filed a grievance on Simonds’ behalf and the System Board awarded reinstatement with full back pay, finding Pan Am had no just cause to discharge Simonds.
Despite the System Board’s decision, Pan Am refused to reinstate Capt. Simonds. ALPA then sued in District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce the award. The court ruled on June 19, 2002 in favor of ALPA on cross-motions for summary judgment, upholding the System Board’s award. Nonetheless, Pan Am continued to refuse to reinstate Simonds, appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Pan Am filed a motion to stay enforcement of the award, which the District Court denied.
When Pan Am again refused to reinstate Simonds, ALPA filed a motion for an Order to Show Cause why the company should not be held in contempt of the District Court’s order enforcing the award. On December 6, 2002, after a hearing, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates granted ALPA’s motion and rejected the company’s argument that it should not be required to reinstate Simonds. Judge Bates gave Pan Am five days to reinstate Capt. Simonds. The judge also ordered that if Simonds were not reinstated within the time limit, the company’s officers would have to appear before him to explain the company’s "neglect, failure and willful refusal" to comply with the award, and face fines of $5,000 for each day of continued non-compliance, plus other sanctions.
The company finally capitulated in the face of the contempt sanctions and issued a letter reinstating Simonds on December 9, 2002. He is scheduled for recurrent training in early January. The company has appealed the ruling, but given the strength of the District Court’s ruling, the appeal is expected to have little chance of success.
Pan Am may face further sanctions for its wretched behavior. The parties were ordered to submit briefs on the issue of whether Pan Am should be sanctioned by the court for its pre-reinstatement conduct.
ALPA, the world’s oldest and largest pilots’ union, represents 66,000 airline pilots at 43 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Its Web site is http://www.alpa.org.
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ALPA CONTACT: John Mazor, (703) 481-4440