A Mesa CRJ900 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport readies for departure.
A year and a half into their new collective bargaining agreement, the pilots of Mesa Air Group are experiencing unexpected challenges that have impacted how they conduct union business. Due to high attrition rates, unexpected delays in training, and increased flying, Mesa pilots find themselves facing staffing issues that have caused the company to cancel ALPA union leave, restricting Master Executive Council (MEC) officers and volunteer requests each month since January 2018.
“We’ve been limited to one officer four days a week for office coverage and a few other volunteers for things like ASAP meetings and monthly pregrievance meetings,” said Capt. Andy Hughes, the pilot group’s MEC chair. “Even our MEC meeting last April had to be held via conference call because we were unable to secure releases for an in-person meeting.”
Despite these substantial challenges, the pilots remain connected and focused on the company’s future growth, continuing to unify as a group and keep track of their main goals: career progression and contract enforcement. “Our Grievance Committee members have been briefed extensively on the gains we’ve made during contract negotiations, and it’s now their job to pursue all claims if and when the company violates the collective bargaining agreement,” Hughes observed.
He noted that pilots are leaving the airline in large numbers to advance their aviation career. In 2018, 388 pilots left; of those pilots, 304 were first officers and 84 were captains. This places the company in continuous hiring mode, holding classes every other week. The airline hired more than 400 pilots in 2018.
“Attrition continues to be a challenge,” said Hughes. “This turnover in our pilot group also affects our ability to retain ALPA volunteers, including vital leadership positions like seat reps and Negotiating Committee members.”
To help address the attrition issue, the company announced a new Career Path Program with United Airlines in March 2018 aimed at attracting new pilot applicants while retaining current pilots. The program—strictly voluntary—provides eligible Mesa pilots with a career-progression opportunity. Those who enter the program do so with the expectation that they’ll become United pilots after flying a minimum of either 2,000 hours as pilot in command or attaining 3,000 total flight hours at Mesa. Pilots must also maintain at least 12 months of exclusive flying as United Express at Mesa Airlines. In addition, Mesa announced in August its decision to test the markets and to go public for the first time.
Hughes expects some growth in the number of replacement pilots needed to make up for the attrition and an increase in the number of new hires to properly staff the airline. “The MEC’s strategic plan for 2019 includes continuing to pursue career path opportunities for the Mesa pilots,” he said.
With a new contract in place, Mesa pilots are finally in line with their fee-for-departure peers. Improvements continue to be made in several areas, including layover hotels and reserve rules.
“We’ve seen a quite a few changes since the ratification of our new contract,” noted Hughes. “We’ll continue to follow our strategic plan and work to advance our pilots’ careers at Mesa while paying strict attention to contract enforcement.”