Mesa Pilots
Capt. Asif Raihan and F/O Jenny Sanchez in Tampico, Mexico.

In 2020, Mesa saw its fleet grow, diversified its operations with a new cargo partnership, and was able to protect pilot careers against the effects of the COVID-19 industry downturn.

In July, the airline became the first U.S. regional to offer cargo operations. Following more than a year of negotiations, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) and the company came to an agreement on the new operation that includes pay rates, work rules, and benefits for the pilots operating the new aircraft. Two B-737s joined the Mesa fleet at the new Cincinnati, Ohio, base that was opened to accommodate the cargo operation.

“This is an exciting new chapter for Mesa at a time where diversification of our business is especially necessary,” said Capt. Chris Gill, the pilots’ MEC chair. “We’ve seen cargo carriers thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re hopeful Mesa’s cargo operation will continue to grow and provide opportunity for our pilots.”

In addition to the B-737s, Mesa took delivery of 15 new ERJ E-Jets in 2020 with an additional five slated to arrive in early 2021. These aircraft will replace the aging CRJ700 fleet and operate under the United Express brand.

With the large expenses associated with fleet growth and introducing the cargo operation, Mesa was hit especially hard by the economic downturn. In March, 92 new-hire pilots in initial training were furloughed, and the MEC signed a temporary, short-term memorandum of understanding (MOU) to prevent furloughs of active pilots. This MOU averted furloughs, provided protections for absences related to a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure, offered enhanced voluntary leaves, and allowed the company to reduce line guarantee based on schedule reduction.

“The MEC prioritized pilot careers as well as the overall health of our company with the temporary MOU, hopeful that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief bill, which would only protect employees on the property at the time of its passing, was forthcoming,” Gill observed. The MOU was terminated a month later when the CARES Act passed and Mesa received funding.

When the CARES Act wasn’t extended, Mesa announced it would need to furlough 490 pilots and displace 191 captains. The MEC negotiated a solution to allow the company to cut costs while protecting pilot careers but left its passage to a pilot vote.

“We wanted to keep our pilots on property, with all the benefits of employment in the career they worked so hard for,” said Gill. “But when all pilots are affected by an agreement, they have the right and responsibility to voice their position with a vote.”

The pilots voted to pass the temporary, limited MOU to guarantee that no Mesa pilots would be furloughed or downgraded in exchange for a partially refundable reduction in monthly guarantee. The MOU expired on December 31.

Section 6 negotiations for Mesa’s next contract open in 2021. Last year saw fleet growth, diversification of operations, and unity behind the protection of Mesa pilot careers. The MEC is looking forward to continued progress in the coming year.

“We’ll continue to work for the betterment of Mesa pilots, promote unity during these challenging times, and facilitate solutions in the best interest of our entire pilot group,” Gill said.

The pilots suffered a tragic loss in August with the passing of Capt. Andy Hughes, the long-time MEC chair who dedicated more than 30 years in service to the union, most recently serving as the MEC chair and ALPA executive vice president. Colleagues put together a commemorative video in his honor, and at the 2020 Board of Directors meeting, Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, posthumously honored Hughes with the David L. Behncke Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s one of only four pilots to have received this award.

“Andy poured his heart and soul into this profession and the ALPA organization,” noted Gill, who served as Hughes’s MEC vice chair and was elected to fill the remainder of his term.