Photographer: Martin Leissl /Bloomberg

American’s Pilots Say It Flies ‘Ragged Edge’ of Safety Rules

  • Airline attempts to stay on time during busy summer season
  • Carrier says safety, following regulations are top priority

Efforts by American Airlines to keep flights on schedule during the summer travel season are on the verge of violating safety rules, according to the union for the carrier’s pilots.

The world’s biggest airline has been increasing aircraft speeds, re-routing some flights and pushing cockpit crews to lengthen their work days -- the latest steps in a campaign to improve on-time performance. The Allied Pilots Association warned about the changes in a message Thursday from union President Dan Carey, who encouraged members to report issues.

The conflict is the latest between American and its 15,000 pilots. Union leaders earlier this year said a meeting with top executives left them discouraged about prospects for a real change in culture, the key part of Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker’s plan to improve the airline. Pilots also bristled under an order that aircraft doors be closed early to ensure that planes leave on time, even when some passengers are left at the gate.

“APA pilots are now reporting that management is manipulating flight plans in order to keep an operation under duress from coming apart at the seams,” Carey’s letter said. “These last-minute manipulations are used to make a flight appear legal when in reality it’s not or is, at best, on the ragged edge.”

Duty Times

A July 12 letter from Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom said that for critical flights, the airline would use “speed up” flight plans when necessary to reduce delays involving crew duty times.

“Safety and regulatory compliance are always the first and foremost consideration in every decision and in every facet of our company,” said Joshua Freed, a spokesman for American Airlines Group Inc. “We are fortunate that our pilots are the best in the business.”

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is in daily contact with each commercial airline as part of its ongoing oversight and “will not hesitate to act if it determines safety may have been compromised,” the agency said in an e-mailed statement.

The airline is directing that some flight plans increase air speeds to near plane limits and on routes expected to hit turbulence, as a means of making sure that crews comply with FAA guidelines on hours worked and avoiding the delays associated with assigning fresh personnel, the union said. American also is decreasing time spent taxiing at airports by changing paths and speeds and routing flights “in conflict with known/commonly expected” air-traffic control routes, according to the union.

Some pilots also have been pressured to work longer days by American representatives, who cite the ramifications of a canceled flight should the aviator decline, Carey said. U.S. regulations generally allow a pilot to work 14 hours, with an extension of as much as two hours if the aviator and the employer agree.

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