Air Transport International

Air Transport, Internationaln Pilots
An Air Transport International B-767-300F on the ramp prior to departure at Lakeland Linder International Airport.

Last year was extremely busy for Air Transport International pilots. The COVID-19 pandemic created additional workload for the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC), which faced the challenge head on by formalizing several memorandums of understanding (MOUs) that addressed the operating environment under COVID-19. The MEC also opened Section 6 negotiations and continued to recruit and appoint additional volunteers to various MEC committees.

“The airline is poised for tremendous growth,” said Capt. Mike Sterling, the pilot group’s MEC chair, “and this MEC is poised to accommodate that growth while still providing the resources the pilots have come to trust from their elected leaders.”

COVID-19 dramatically increased demand for the airline’s freighter operations. Amazon, DHL, and other customers prompted the company to increase routes and capacity. It hired 73 pilots and added six B-767s to the fleet to keep up with the demand. “Ensuring the pilot group’s health and safety during the pandemic was a top priority for the MEC,” said Sterling, who added that several MOUs were created to address the additional flying and the challenges that flying created. The COVID protections achieved in these MOUs by the MEC will continue until March 2021.

Guided by the direction of the Contract Study Committee and input from pilot surveys, the Contract Negotiating Committee (CNC) kicked off Section 6 negotiations with management in April 2020 with the establishment of a negotiations protocol agreement, which provides the framework for negotiating interactions that maintain a professional atmosphere, and openers were exchanged in early June. While travel limitations due to the pandemic have delayed in-person negotiations, Capt. Travis Jordan, the CNC chair, and the CNC meet with management negotiators virtually.

The CNC delineates the sections in the pilots’ collective bargaining agreement into four distinct phases to facilitate a productive dialogue: Phase I includes the least contentious sections that both sides can more easily tentatively agree to, Phase II includes moderately contentious contract issues, Phase III includes the most contentious items that are tied to economics and tend to take longer to negotiate, and Phase IV are the cleanup items.

While only a few issues are open in Phases I and II, the CNC continues to make steady progress in Phase III. This January, the CNC and management negotiators started interest-based bargaining to assist with finding solutions to some of the more difficult scheduling issues. The CNC also launched Skypointer, an electronic publication that provides regular updates to the pilots following each negotiating session.

However, according to Jordan, “as we progress from Phase II to Phase III proposals, those that have a financial impact on the company, negotiations typically slow down as both sides invest time and energy into costing out proposals.”

Due to the additional workload from COVID-19 and contract negotiations, MEC committee growth was slower than originally planned. Pilot-to-Pilot, Veterans Affairs, and Training Committees are all ramping up and improving their processes to meet the demands of the rapidly growing pilot group. Considering the large number of pilots still on probation, the MEC is adding volunteers to vacant positions as quickly as possible.

“The MEC owes much thanks to Capt. Eric Jacobson for his service to the pilots in his role of executive administrator,” Sterling added. “His experience was a vital resource for the MEC, and the pilots wish him all the best in his future endeavors.” Jacobson retired at the end of 2020.

“The company looks forward to another year of record growth,” noted Sterling. “Several new-hire classes are planned for 2021, five additional aircraft are being added during the first quarter of 2021, and as the pilot group grows, the MEC will continue to grow to provide the best possible support to our pilots.” (To find out about hiring, go to www.alpa.org/resources/furlough.)