From left, Capt. Brett Barthol, the Trans States Master Executive Council Family Awareness Committee chair, and F/O John Carlson on a flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to South Bend Regional Airport.
Trans States pilots kicked off 2018 by formulating a contract opener in anticipation of opening Section 6 negotiations. Negotiations began in March, and the Negotiating Committee members are positioned to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that recognizes the pilots’ contribution to the success of the airline.
“This is our first Section 6 negotiations since 2011,” said Capt. Neil Butler, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair, “and although progress is much better than during our last round of negotiations, it’s still slower than would be expected given the climate of the regional industry.” During the interim period, the MEC ratified a contract extension and several major letters of agreement that incorporated necessary changes to the contract to make the airline more attractive to pilots.
Butler noted that attrition rates at the airline are high just as they are at any other regional airline. “In order to compete for new pilots, management must come to the table and negotiate a contract that adequately compensates existing pilots and encourages new pilots to join our ranks,” he said. This includes converting hiring bonuses into the pay scale.
“There’s been a great deal of turnover in our Negotiating Committee, with pilots moving on to bluer skies,” Butler commented, adding that the current Negotiating Committee chair is the only holdover from the original Negotiating Committee formed at the beginning of 2018. “However, we’re facing this challenge head on and won’t let it interfere with negotiations.”
The departure of MEC volunteers to other airlines this past year has put a definite strain on the MEC, which lost two MEC vice chairs, a Negotiating Committee chair and vice chair, a Government Affairs chair, and the Pilot-to-Pilot chair (the last three positions were filled by one volunteer). “We’re always looking for volunteers to fill key roles, but recruitment remains challenging,” said Butler.
The airline also negotiated a flow-through agreement with Frontier Airlines in 2018. According to Butler, a Trans States pilot can request participation, and he or she will flow by seniority to Frontier after the director of operations reviews the pilot’s record and determines eligibility based on sick calls, training records, etc. “We don’t know the exact details or criteria that are used to determine the eligibility; but the program started in July, and we’ve had two pilots per month flow to Frontier,” Butler observed.
Other challenges faced by the pilot group in 2018 included closing the Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airports codomicile and converting the Raleigh, N.C., base to a charter domicile. Management plans to utilize the one airplane and three flight crews based in Raleigh to operate East Coast charter flights and possibly increase that number as demand grows during 2019.
The MEC remains committed to creating an atmosphere of unity within the pilot group. The MEC hosted the most Family Awareness events in its history in 2018, and they were very well attended. Events included a visit to Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis, Mo., and attending a Rockies baseball game and an Avalanche hockey game in Denver, Colo. Butler noted that the outings provide an ideal opportunity for pilots and their families to learn more about what’s going on with the MEC, receive updates on negotiations, and socialize and have a little fun.
Trans States discontinued flying for American Airlines on December 24 and is now exclusively flying as United Express. The flying for United is “net plus” according to Butler, who said the American flying they lost was replaced by an increase in United Express flying. “However, the continued success of our carrier depends on hiring, and that will only be successful with the completion of a competitive contract,” Butler acknowledged.