At Trial Starting Tuesday, Atlas Air Pilots To Sound Alarm On Management Failures That Strain Operation, Reports Teamsters Local 1224
New Court Filings Show AAWW's Disregard for Intensifying Operational and Staffing Troubles Leads to Delays, Service Disruptions for Customers Like Amazon and DHL
WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Tuesday is the first hearing in a lawsuit filed by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (NASDAQ: AAWW) and its subsidiaries, Atlas Air and Polar Air Cargo, against its pilots, aimed at dodging blame for the company's failures to address the staffing and operational challenges threatening its ability to deliver for customers like DHL Express and Amazon.
New court documents filed by the pilots and their union, including declarations from veteran pilots and industry experts, reveal management's systemic disregard for its employees and growing issues related to the carriers' rapidly-expanding flight operations, calling into question every element of the company's claims. AAWW is contracted to fly 20 planes for Amazon Prime Air by 2018.
"We agree with Atlas: our airlines face serious challenges that threaten our ability to get the job done for customers like Amazon and DHL. But company executives are trying to blame dedicated pilots for their own management failures and intransigence that created this crisis," said Capt. Daniel Wells, an Atlas Air pilot and president of Teamsters Local 1224, which represents pilots at the AAWW carriers. "AAWW's management refuses to recognize an existential threat to our company's future. Years of substandard pay, working conditions and fatigue-inducing operations have fueled record attrition and staffing problems at our airlines. Today's generation of pilots will not come to work for a company that treats its employees the way AAWW does. Atlas' poor and out-of-touch management has pushed our operations to a breaking point where just one pilot calling in sick because he's violently ill can disrupt the entire operation."
AAWW's lawsuit alleges the pilots and their union representatives, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Airline Professional Association Teamsters Local 1224, are responsible for the airlines' mounting scheduling failures and growing scrutiny the carriers have received from customers and the public.
But new court documents filed by the pilots and their union, including testimonies from veteran pilots and industry experts, paint a strikingly different picture, showing a pattern of disregard by management for the intensifying challenges.
In a declaration submitted last week, Captain Robert Kirchner, a longtime Atlas Air pilot and Executive Council Chairman at Local 1224 describes a 2014 meeting with a senior Atlas executive in which they discussed the "increasingly chaotic changes" that were degrading the airline's operations and placing great stress on the pilots. The executive assured Captain Kirchner that it would be "no problem" to work with the union on a mutually-beneficial relationship to address these operational issues in compliance with the pilots' contract. Yet the declaration details how the company undermined this understanding only months later by unilaterally subverting the contract to prevent longtime company experienced pilots from filling captain seats on company aircraft, denying them an earned promotion. Captain Kirchner's declaration also describes management's strategy of "bouncing pilots from one schedule change to another" and "harassing pilots who are sick or fatigued" in response to a business model that has become "increasingly strained."
The documents also include testimonies from experts and senior pilots that highlight the serious effects of fatigue on flight operations and, in very personal detail, disprove the company's claims regarding any type of alleged pilot "slow down":
- In response to the company's statistical analysis alleging a purposeful work slowdown, industry economist Dan Akins noted: "…there is no relationship proven by Dr. Lee between alleged pilot actions and the company's poor operational performance. Rather, it appears that the operational deterioration at Atlas is a function of growth in the operation and a systematic failure to adequately deploy appropriate resources to support the operation."
- Concerning the company's accusations regarding fatigue, workplace fatigue expert Dr. Terry Von Thaden said of one pilot's experiences: "After reviewing Captain Bellman's narrative report, I believe that he acted responsibly and the best interest of safety. Atlas and Polar have readily acknowledged that fatigue calls in Sydney Australia are especially challenging. And, due to the rapid shift in time zones and due to the circadian rhythm, fatigue calls in Sydney are not new: Atlas and Polar have been confronted with them for a considerably long time. Yet they have not done nearly enough to mitigate the situations that cause fatigue calls that happen there."
- One pilot describes the grueling scheduling protocols that led to his decision to call in fatigued: "I did not get any useful rest, as my room was located next to the pool, where a large group of guests was playing, splashing and listening to loud music… Several hours before wakeup, I noticed that one of the [first officers] had been removed from the schedule - leaving a 2-person crew to operate a nearly 8-hour red-eye flight with 340 passengers on board. At this time, without any rest possible on the flight, in the interest of safety, I decided to call in fatigued."
The trial runs through November 2 and will start Tuesday at 11 AM ET at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia at 333 Constitution Avenue N.W. in Washington, D.C. Several pilots and experts, as well as key witnesses from the company, are scheduled to testify.
Captain Wells concluded: "We're confident the evidence presented in court will defend us against AAWW's spurious claims. Our customers deserve comprehensive solutions that ensure our companies can live up to our commitments to them. We urge Atlas management to put an end to the legal tricks and get serious about working with pilots in good faith on the genuine issues we face. The future of the company is at stake."
On September 25, Atlas Air, Inc. and Polar Air Cargo, two subsidiaries of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, filed a lawsuit against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and its affiliate APA Teamsters Local 1224, which represents the airlines' pilots, alleging they are responsible for both the companies' scheduling failures and the growing scrutiny the carriers have received from their customers.
In February 2017, the company sued the union to try and force them into a process that would "amalgamate" the collective bargaining agreements of Atlas Air and sister company (also represented by the Teamsters) Southern Air. The union had rejected the company's plea as it would result in a collective bargaining agreement far below industry standards. That lawsuit continues in The United States District Court for Southern New York.
At the same time, years of substandard pay and working conditions, combined with the pilot shortage, have fueled significant staffing issues at AAWW's airlines that could undermine their ability to deliver for key customers like DHL and Amazon. Atlas Air saw significantly more pilots leave the company in the first eight months of 2017 as it did in the entirety of the previous year. From January to August 2017, Atlas also experienced a 32 percent increase in pilot resignations compared to the entirety of 2016.
Desmond Lee, (646) 517-1826
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