US Airways Pilots, After Long Wait, Want Payoff From AMR Merger

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After the ruling, the east pilots voted to leave ALPA for the newly created USAPA. With a voting majority, they dragged along the west pilots, kicking and screaming.

The seniority discussion may seem to be a digression, but it is a digression that has consumed US Airways pilot-management relations for five years. The lack of a seniority agreement has enabled management to avoid negotiating a new joint contract that would boost the low pay rates in both existing pilot contracts. Rather, management has focused on seeking a merger, arguing that if US Airways could merge with an airline that has the hubs to support vast international flying, it could pay its employees at the same rate as the three major airlines do.

Now a merger seems almost here. Expectations are high. The west pilots generally want a deal, although one told me the top benefit would be "putting USAPA in the grave." East pilots generally want a deal too. But some worry that so far the airline's bargaining position has not included maintenance of their scope clause, which protects the Charlotte and Philadelphia flying that they see as the principal asset they have been able to retain through their struggles.

Some American pilots, opposed to a merger, have compiled a "date of hire" seniority list that places many US Airways pilots ahead of American pilots. Theoretically, that could enable US Airways pilots to take the best international routes from Chicago, Dallas and Miami. But US Airways pilots have no desire or expectation to take American flying, and they fully expect "fences" to protect both carriers' flying in any merger deal. As one US Airways pilot told me, "We're not looking for a windfall. We never have. We just want to protect what we bring to the party."

For this downtrodden pilot group, that does not seem a lot to ask.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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