Monday, February 02, 2009

Pilots wary of proposed United Airlines/Aer Lingus partnership

ALPA logoLast month United Airlines and Irish carrier Aer Lingus announced "an innovative extension of their relationship on select long haul services between Europe and North America." Under terms of the agreement -- made possible by the Open Skies Air Services Agreement between the European Union and the United States -- the two carriers plan to offer daily service between Washington-Dulles and Madrid, beginning in March of 2010. While the fine details of the deal have not been publicly announced, this partnership appears to be something more than a mere code-share alliance, and crews on both sides of the Atlantic are unhappy with what they suspect will be an attempt to use the new arrangement to outsource their jobs.

The United Airlines/Aer Lingus joint announcement said:
It is intended that both carriers will equally share the commercial and operating benefits and risk, with Aer Lingus managing the operational aspects of the new partnership services and United Airlines taking responsibility for managing revenue generation. The Partnership route structure will be operated and sold under both Aer Lingus and United Airlines codes and will leverage both parties’ network capabilities.
Translation, according to word on the street, is that Aer Lingus will supply up to three A330 aircraft to fly the route, and United will do the marketing. The catch seems to be that neither carrier's crews will operate the flights.

How can this be? If the aircraft operate under the current Aer Lingus certificate, shouldn't Aer Lingus crews fly the aircraft? That's what the pilots are wondering.

Will the joint venture be issued a separate operator's certificate? And if so, would that allow them to recruit and hire crew members who are employed by neither United nor Aer Lingus?

The pilot unions at both airlines have signed a joint protocol agreement "to protect the interests of pilots from both airlines in light of the recently announced partnership between United and Aer Lingus." United pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Aer Lingus pilots are represented by the Irish Air Line Pilots Association (IALPA).

"It is imperative that we work together on both sides of the Atlantic to prevent the anti-labor aspects of this agreement from impacting pilots from our two airlines," said Captain Steve Wallach, chairman of the United unit of ALPA. "This partnership between United and Aer Lingus will set a dangerous precedent regarding international air travel where pilots on both sides of the Atlantic will pay a steep price. We will explore every regulatory, legislative and legal avenue to protect the rights and careers of our members."

"We are very pleased to have entered into this protocol agreement with the United pilots and we will be working with them to confront the challenges this partnership poses to both our pilot groups," said Captain Evan Cullen, president of the IALPA. "We look forward to working with our United colleagues to explore every option to end our respective company’s blatant disregard and lack of loyalty to their pilots, as well as to their corporate identities."

UPDATE Feb. 3, 2009: Aviation news website reported on this story today. Their article adds the following bit of information:
Aer Lingus today confirmed it is setting up a base in Washington to recruit pilots and cabin crew to support the operations, which are scheduled to begin in March 2010.
Hmmm, just as we suspected. Something tells me this is going to get nasty.