F/O Lisa Avila (ExpressJet) conducts a preflight inspection with kids at EAA AirVenture 2018.

To say that 2018 was a busy year for the ExpressJet Master Executive Council (MEC) would be akin to describing weather delays at Newark Liberty International Airport as minor—an understatement for sure. Last year ExpressJet pilots secured their first new collective bargaining agreement since 2004 and, despite numerous challenges, made significant progress toward a brighter future that had for some time appeared bleak and uncertain.

The pilots began the year with news that their mainline partner, United Airlines, intended to run new-hire pilot classes through the remainder of 2018. This was a welcome announcement for the pilot group as it signaled increased attrition from the top of the seniority list through United’s Career Path Program (CPP) with ExpressJet. In 2018, more than 150 ExpressJet pilots transitioned to United through the CPP, which guarantees that 25 percent of United new-hire pilots will be ExpressJet CPP participants.

In July, United announced that it was awarding 20 CRJ200s to ExpressJet to operate at its Chicago O’Hare domicile. This represented welcome growth and increased opportunities for Atlantic Southeast pilots, who began transitioning to the ExpressJet operation at the beginning of 2018 as part of the merger of the two pilot groups and the loss of Atlantic Southeast’s Delta Air Lines and American Airlines flying contracts.

Although these developments were welcomed by the pilots, what they wanted most was a new market-rate contract that would bring them in line with industry peers who had made significant contract gains in recent years. Negotiations for a new contract had remained essentially lifeless since the group voted down a concessionary tentative agreement in 2012.

This changed dramatically in July, when the company expressed renewed interest in returning to the table to negotiate a nonconcessionary contract. The MEC’s Negotiating Committee responded immediately, agreeing to an expedited negotiations process as long as concessions weren’t considered.

“Our pilot group had been operating under a concessionary contract since 2004 and has endured a shrinking fleet, lagging compensation, and a lack of investment in our future by our parent company,” explained F/O Joe Mauro, the MEC chair. “A market-rate contract wasn’t only desired, but it was absolutely necessary to arrest declining morale, reward our pilots for their outstanding work, and attract a sufficient cadre of qualified pilots to support our growing United Express operation.”

Negotiations began to make immediate progress. In August, the MEC leaders met to refine their strategic plan in order to effectively support the bargaining process. That process had the company, negotiators, and committee volunteers working seven days a week to craft a new contract.

Roughly halfway through negotiations, management indicated that ExpressJet would receive up to 25 factory-new Embraer E175s from United if a pilot contract could be completed by a predetermined, looming deadline. Although inspired and motivated by this news, the MEC made it abundantly clear that the promise of new aircraft wouldn’t result in agreeing to a subpar contract.

Ultimately the MEC negotiators prevailed and at the end of September, less than three months after negotiations had resumed, the pilot group ratified Contract 2018, with 90 percent of pilots voting in favor of the agreement.

ExpressJet pilots closed out 2018 on a high note with news that they’d been awarded the 25 Embraer E175s promised by the company as part of a deal that also included the sale of ExpressJet from SkyWest, Inc. to ManaAir, LLC in which United owns an interest. ExpressJet will begin taking delivery of the new airplanes in April.

“These announcements signal a new era for ExpressJet Airlines,” said Mauro. “We look forward to a stronger relationship with United Airlines, and I have no doubt that our pilots will flawlessly execute United’s plans for our future with the same reliability and professionalism they’ve demonstrated throughout the history of our airline.”