ALPA Takes Pilots’ World View to Wall Street

March 13, 2009 - “The U.S. airline industry cannot be overlooked or underrated as a cornerstone of the economic recovery,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president, in his remarks this week at the 2009 JPMorgan Aviation and Transportation Conference. “Airline pilots realize the severity of the economic downturn our nation is facing. But they also know that labor has provided concessions since 2002 that have cut pay by 40 percent, eliminated retirement, and caused pilots at most airlines to be away from home for many more hours.”

Among the industry’s premier financial conferences, the JPMorgan event attracted more than 800 investors from across the country and around the globe. In his March 10 remarks, Prater took on the public misconceptions about airline pilots—the stale clichés surrounding salaries and schedules, and whether pilots are focused on the financial performance of their airlines. “Given the importance of seniority, the concessions that airline pilots have given to help their companies succeed, and the performance-based contract provisions, I’d say that few, if any, investors or stakeholders are more invested in the financial performance of their companies than pilots.”

Citing his recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Aviation Subcommittee on the US Airways safe water landing on the Hudson River, Prater emphasized the urgent need to restore the airline piloting profession to maintain a motivated workforce and attract and retain the finest professional aviators. “Pilots tell me over and over again that their sons and daughters don’t want to follow in their footsteps to become a second- or even third-generation pilot,” he said. Prater referenced a recent tour of six military bases during which he met many highly experienced fighter pilots who said they would not consider airline flying due to the low wages and poor quality of work life.

“We stand at a critical crossroads to begin the work of rebuilding the airline piloting profession,” Prater said to a packed room. He pointed to the upcoming bargaining cycle, which started with the completed contract for Delta and Northwest pilots and the recent Alaska Airlines agreement in principle, and said that airline managements must recognize pilots as professionals and partners.

Prater also underscored that contract restructuring, combined with capacity cuts and the rapid drop in jet fuel prices, has positioned the airlines to weather the current economic times better than most industries. The airlines are still holding up well, and profits are clearly possible this year, he said.

“ALPA seeks to establish more favorable, and more consistent, contract patterns across pilot group lines,” Prater declared. “By narrowing the range of pilot costs across the industry, airlines will compete in the areas they should—their own strategic plans, their marketing, and their customer service—not their pilot labor costs.”