American Airlines is going to implement a new rule when it comes to its flight tests. This month, the airline is going to have nonunion company pilots to perform test flights. However, the aviators’ union opposes this move saying that this could reduce the independence of the reviews.
Non-union pilots starting Thursday are going to be in charge of testing airplanes that have been in long-term storage or undergone repairs. In the past, specially trained unionized pilots are the ones in charge of performing the tasks of conducting test flights before letting customers fly on the aircraft.
According to American Airlines, the number of unionized pilots decreased over the years. From 24 in 2016, the company is now left with just six union aviators. Some left the union while others retire or shifted careers to fly passengers.
American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said that they’ve transitioned flight tests to “better manage the unpredictable nature of test flights”. Allied Pilots Association, which represents around 15,000 of American’s pilots, oppose this move by the company. APA president Eric Ferguson argued that there needs to be “independent, protected, and unintimidated pilots” doing safety checks. He also argues that there is going to be “conflict of interest” once test flights are conducted by non-unionized pilots.
However, the union didn’t say that there are imminent or specific safety risks if this move is implemented.
Jantz said that “our expectations and standards will not change with this transition”. She added that American will “continue completing maintenance-related flight checks above and beyond FAA requirements”.
Flawed Flight Tests?
Allied Pilots Association, in the past, complained about American’s flight tests. In 2017, APA along with Transportation Department’s watchdog described what was a “culture of suppressing safety complaints” within the company.
In July 2018, the inspector general for the Transportation Department did an audit for an FAA administration inspector’s review of American’s safety program. He described it as lacking in objectivity.
In recent weeks, the number of passengers increased signaling a rebound in travel demand. American announced that it is looking to get some of its planes back into circulation. During the pandemic, American parked some of its planes.