Archive for September, 2012

Response to Fox News Biased Reporting on American Airlines

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Dear Fox and Friends Producers, 


You are one of my favorite shows so I am writing as a fan to let you know that you have been putting out some bad information.American Airlines and AMR corporation have been putting on a full court press to blame their operational ineffectiveness on pilots calling in sick.  They have put out a line of comment indicating that pilots sick calls are running 20% over normal.  The fact is that these numbers are easy to obtain, verify and compare and actually show that pilot sick calls are not elevated at all but within 1% of their monthly average for the last 12 months.  That monthly average runs about 6.5% or about 500 pilots out of our 7600 who are currently flying and not on furlough or serving with the military.  Flight Attendant sick calls are running at historically high levels but this has not been delineated by either American or the media.

American pilots are in the unique position of working without a contract.  Our contract, which was abrogated by the court two weeks ago, enables pilots to work through operational issues in a professional manner through communications and hearings and fact finding when there are deviations.  That is gone now, so pilots are flying very cautiously with regard to company and FAA rules because the company can fire a pilot without recourse and the FAA can take the pilots license while they investigate and that pilot is immediately unemployed – pilots are not on salary they actually get paid by the minute and don’t start getting paid until the aircraft is moved from the gate.  So when you see pilots at the airport, in uniform doing paperwork and preparing to fly – they are not being paid.  The pilots of American Airlines are professional aviators who have been lied to by management at every turn since 2003 when they gave back over a billion dollars in a concessionary contract to prevent AMR’s dive into bankruptcy while management prepared bonuses for themselves.

As a conservative and an international airline captain at AA I am a Union Member because of the unique circumstances of commercial aviation.  But Airline pilots are not traditional unionized labor as many conservatives like myself may be tempted to assume.  We are professionals that are federally licensed and regulated.  By any measure we have greater risk and responsibility than any manager including AMR CEO Tom Horton.  Yet we have no contact with our managers, so we traditionally have a contract we follow and our own ethics and leadership as professionals to guide our actions.  We are compensated well because our work requires years of preparation, experience and hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal investment.  We have the lives of hundreds of people in our hands every day and sole responsibility for a $20 plus million dollar asset, flown at all hours in all weather conditions into some of the most demanding airports in the world. We have more life and death responsibility that any surgeon at any one moment.  We are more highly regulated, inspected and scrutinized than any doctor or CEO and yet we serve at the complete mercy of companies and managers who have little understanding or respect for our profession.  We accept these factors but will not devalue our profession for the sake of inexperienced managers and boards who don’t know what it really means to run a world class airline.  This is why the pilots voted down the company’s last offer.  It was an insulting attack on our profession and we will not cut our own throats to cover for managements failures – we have done our job exactly as we contracted to do with integrity and within the rules of our highly regulated environment.We were professional aviators before we worked for AA, and we will be professional aviators after we no longer work for AA.  I was an Air Force U-2 pilot and AA came to my base and specifically asked me to work for them.  When I arrived for my interview I sat next to the Colonel who was the Captain of Air Force One, he got the same invitation.  American came to us because they needed our skills to make their business work,  without professional aviators there is no airline.  We cannot be outsourced or easily replaced.  There is a worldwide pilot shortage that is only getting worse.

With regard to the company’s economic arguments, AA pilots are paid less than almost all their counterparts, less than Delta, United and Southwest by significant numbers.  So their argument that the pilots are making above market rates is a lie.  For 25 years AA made promises in writing that they have now been allowed to walk away from through bankruptcy.  American Airlines entered bankruptcy with more cash ($5 billion) than any company in American history.  AA’s bankruptcy was merely a stunt to break the unions and stiff our creditors so they can compete.  Funny thing is that despite no labor concessions having been put in place yet, AA is now reporting a profit except for the costs of paying bankruptcy lawyers.  This is a travesty and deserves a fair and balanced investigation, not a mere regurgitation of comments that pose as facts from sources controlled by AA or intellectually dishonest analysts who have it out for unions.

Of course everyone loves Southwest Airlines, but did you know that Southwest is the most highly unionized airline in the US?  The difference is management philosophy at Southwest,  Their CEO recently stated that the most important people for Southwest are not customers, but employees.  Southwest believes that if they take care and respect employees then the employees will take care and respect their customers and business will be good.  Well for Southwest business is in fact, very good.  But Southwest practices care and respect for employees, they don’t just talk about it.  AA has talked for years but not followed up with the actions and commitments.  Employees are not the enemy, they are an airlines greatest asset or, if treated poorly, its most powerful drain on brand excellence.

I am a retired AF Colonel, I have an MBA and have run four international companies.  I have worked as an aviation analyst for NBC and an international risk expert for CBS.  I understand business and leadership and airlines are a unique business that requires extremely competent leadership, agile decision making and trust.  It would be refreshing for the media to be fair and balanced with regard to some industries where unions are not the enemy but in fact the leaders in protecting the traveling public.  Airline pilot unions in the US have been responsible for creating and/or demanding most of the programs that are now credited with creating the great safety record we now enjoy in the US.

For those companies and organizations on the unsecured creditors committee (the UCC) involved in the AA bankruptcy this is about dollars that belong to companies – for AA pilots (also on the UCC) this is about the future of our families, our lives, our financial security and our honor.

Thanks for your time, the pilots at American Airlines are proud professionals saddened by where management has taken our once great airline.  I continue to transport and protect my precious passengers despite the attacks on my profession, my livelihood, my reputation and my colleagues.  Professional pilots call in sick when they are not physically fit to fly, this is the responsibility placed on us alone by our Federal Airline Transport License and our FAA Medical Certificate, it is not a company decision.  We don’t call in sick to punish the company or leverage our circumstances.  But these are trying times of great stress for the employees of American Airlines, and I am sure that this stress does affect peoples health.  Over the past several years the stress has gotten so bad that suicides among pilots in our business are at record levels. That is a sure sign of trouble in any business that cannot and should not be ignored.

The truth is that prior to AA’s bankruptcy and continuing through it, AA is responsible for lying not only to employees, but to investors, stockholders, banks, regulators, creditors, analysts and the media. They have been fined well over $150 million over the last 4 years for gross maintenance violations, these fines are records – the previous highest fine was $25 million (also fined against AA).  So where is the outrage from the media against a company that has used spin to avoid accountability and abused the bankruptcy laws to cheat investors (every AA stockholder), stakeholders (employees), suppliers and customers so they can break contracts they agreed to and signed.  Please tenaciously investigate deeper than the press releases and the analyst babble from those who look at the industry but don’t know the business.

Finally, please realize that I obviously do not speak for American Airlines or for the pilots union, the Allied Pilots Association.  I speak as a private citizen, professional aviator, conservative and concerned american worker.

Very Respectfully,

Captain Robert Gaylord