Capt. Thomas Cross, incoming Envoy Air Master Executive Council (MEC) chair, left, accepts the gavel from Capt. Steven Pallai, the outgoing MEC chair who flowed to American Airlines at the end of 2019.
While 2018 was a year during which Envoy Air experienced tremendous growth, in 2019 the size of the pilot group and fleet remained relatively stable. However, 2019 yielded long-awaited improvements to pilot compensation.
Although the number of airframes remained steady last year at around 180 aircraft, the fleet continues to evolve. In 2019, aircraft deliveries brought the total of ERJ 175s on the property to 67 out of 84 firm orders, with scheduled deliveries continuing through 2020. Offsetting the additional ERJ 175 deliveries is the transfer of CRJ700s to PSA, which like Envoy is wholly owned by American Airlines Group. By the end of last year, the last CRJ700 had been transferred. The ERJ 140/145 fleet is currently at 109 aircraft. In 2018, several ERJ 140s were returned to service from storage during Envoy’s extensive growth period. In 2019, as more ERJ 175s were delivered, older ERJ 140s and 145s were returned to storage.
In line with the fleet size stability, the size of the pilot group also remained steady at approximately 2,400 pilots. A total of 322 pilots flowed through to American Airlines in 2019, and more than 240 pilots are expected to flow through in 2020. Envoy also hired more than 600 pilots in 2019 and is planning to hire 600 more this year. The combination of new hires, flow through, and outside attrition has led to the stability of the pilot group size as well as upward movement through the seniority list.
The flow through to American Airlines is both a blessing and a curse for the Envoy Master Executive Council (MEC). While the career advancement opportunity afforded via flow through holds significant value, the experience and institutional knowledge of those volunteering to do ALPA work is dwindling. This is a major challenge facing the pilot group in the coming years. In the past year, nearly every MEC officer and representative position and numerous committee chair positions have changed due to turnover. And this will continue into 2020.
In October, the pilots’ MEC held an election for MEC chair and secretary-treasurer to replace the current incumbents who flowed to American Airlines. Capt. Tom Cross, the current MEC vice chair, was elected MEC chair, and Capt. Andrew Rose, a Negotiating Committee member, was elected secretary-treasurer. These new officers will continue to face the challenge of maintaining a constructive working relationship with management.
Although this relationship had improved during the last few years, there were some setbacks in 2019 regarding the negotiations for, and implementation of, compensation improvements. In April, PSA ratified an agreement increasing pilot compensation. Negotiations between Envoy pilots and management began soon after, although negotiations were slow moving. In May, Piedmont, another regional carrier wholly owned by American Airlines Group, also ratified an agreement that included improved compensation.
In July, Envoy management and the pilots came to an agreement that contained increased compensation. However, soon afterward management backed out of that agreement due to an overextension of its bargaining authority. The fallout from management’s decision to back out of the deal was extensive and propagated increased distrust on the part of the pilots toward management.
Ultimately, negotiations continued, and the pilots accepted an offer of increased compensation. However, implementing the agreement was also rocky, as some of the retroactive pay increase payments were delivered later than the prescribed deadline. Rebuilding trust between the parties will be a challenge, but improvement is necessary for enhanced quality of life for the pilots and operational stability for the company. In October 2020, management and the pilot group will enter negotiations for a limited, cost-neutral reopener in accordance with the pilots’ collective bargaining agreement.
The company has the potential to provide pilots in the coming years with a positive experience while on the property as well as career advancement. The newly elected MEC representatives bring to the table new perspectives on the issues facing the pilot group and have an opportunity to continue the overall upward trend for Envoy pilots.