Capt. Tom Cross, Envoy Master Executive Council chair, left, and Capt. Pat Couture in the cockpit of an Embraer 175. Couture retired in 2020 after a 30-year career with the airline.
While 2019 was a year in which the Envoy pilot group experienced tremendous opportunities, in 2020 the pilots found themselves in an unfortunate position like many other airline pilots affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic reality created by the virus has indefinitely blocked one of the strongest portions of the Envoy pilot contract: the ability to flow through to American Airlines as American has implemented a hiring freeze.
In addition, Envoy accelerated the retirement of its 44-seat Embraer 140 fleet, reducing the fleet by 43 aircraft by late November. While the parking of these aircraft was offset with the addition of 23 two-class, 76-seat E175s, the total fleet count has seen a reduction of 20 aircraft compared to 2019.
In conjunction with the retirement of the E140 fleet, Envoy shut down both the New York co-domicile and the Miami, Fla., E145/140 domicile in January of this year. Though this disappointing news marks the second time Envoy has closed the New York co-domicile in less than a decade, the silver lining is the company’s plan to open a Miami E175 domicile this April.
The resulting change in fleet count and domiciles triggered two systemwide displacement/vacancy bids. At the conclusion of both bids, several hundred pilots were displaced from their equipment or domicile, and 120 captains were downgraded to first officer.
The most disappointing development for the pilot group stemmed from the failure of management to seriously engage in negotiations with the MEC to prevent the furloughs precipitated by the pandemic. Though the MEC offered management numerous feasible, voluntary, and nonconcessionary proposals to deliver the cost savings necessary to prevent furloughs, the company failed to genuinely assess the proposals’ merits until the 11th hour. Instead, the company opted to bypass negotiation and offer simplistic solutions, which were wholly inadequate at meeting the pilot group’s needs.
The failure of these initiatives was due, in part, to management’s insistence on a one-size-fits-all approach. By ignoring the MEC’s thoughtful and conscientious input, the company lost valuable feedback about what offers would attract the pilots’ participation and help make cost-reduction plans actionable. As a result, at the expiration of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in October, Envoy furloughed 227 pilots with an extension of their travel privileges the only separation benefit provided. Although all furloughed Envoy pilots were recalled in December, and the MEC’s Furlough Committee had tirelessly focused on providing comprehensive advice and assistance to furloughed Envoy pilots, the temporary furlough unnecessarily harmed the pilot group.
As this tumultuous year ended, the pilot group had the opportunity to amend several items in its collective bargaining agreement. In October, the pilots were scheduled to begin a limited, cost-neutral amendment round with the company. The negotiating position for both parties remains extremely dynamic; and as the pilots enter more-focused discussions early this year, the MEC is confident in the Negotiating Committee’s strategy to deliver contract changes that will improve the quality of life for the entire pilot group. Though the current economic environment is challenging, with the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine and a deepening bench of experienced ALPA volunteers, the MEC believes that the pilots’ qualifications and experience position the group to take full advantage of an industry recovery.