Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Continental Airlines to furlough pilots in September

Continental Airlines logoThe bad news: Continental Airlines will begin to furlough pilots as of September 9, 2008. The good news: Fewer than 200 pilots will be laid off. In fact, although the airline reportedly sent furlough warning notices to about 500 pilots, word is that the number of expected pilot furloughs now is estimated to be between 140 and 180.

In early June, Continental Airlines announced its capacity reduction plans. Those plans included the elimination of 67 mainline aircraft, and about 3,000 jobs "through voluntary and involuntary separations." The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing some 5,000 pilots at Continental Airlines, has been working with the carrier to reduce the number of pilot furloughs.

A Bloomberg news article about the Continental pilot furloughs quoted an ALPA spokeswoman who said, "We're still in the process of determining the final impact of an incentive program for pilots to leave voluntarily. The union is doing everything it can to work with the company through Sept. 9 to reduce any need for furloughs."

UPDATE Sep. 9, 2008: The Continental Airlines Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced that furloughs are beginning for 148 Continental pilots today.
Captain Jay Pierce, chairman of the pilots’ union, said, “The pieces really came together for this effort. We were able to propose some very unique and forward thinking ideas to management that started the ball rolling. In a cooperative process, the union and Continental were able to reach agreement on ways to achieve reductions voluntarily rather than by the traditional cuts through furloughs. And of course, our pilots who chose to participate in the programs were the third key component. Putting it all together, I think it had benefit for Continental, but of greater concern, this helped our pilots and their families.”

Captain Pierce continued, saying “However, we firmly believe that furloughing 148 pilots, a relatively small number given the 500 pilots who were initially sent furlough notices, does not accomplish the strategic savings a typical furlough would net. It is our belief that the best interests of Continental would be better served by preserving these jobs in order to have the ability to rapidly respond to an ever changing industry.”

The agreement, designed to reduce or eliminate furloughs, included retirement incentives, leaves of absence and reductions in the number of hours flown. The majority of jobs were saved from pilots leaving due to retirement incentives, followed by an overall system-wide reduction in the average number of hours each pilot flies, pilots taking leaves of absence and last, a program where pilots could decide to voluntarily reduce their flying time.