United Airlines’ pilots union is warning passengers that the carrier’s practice of outsourcing flight crews could have potentially harmful safety consequences.
The Air Line Pilots Association, which has been in contract talks with United for two years, said 60 percent of the carrier’s flights are now outsourced to regional partners with inexperienced pilots.
“For the past 50 years, the Air Line Pilots Association has been an initiator of a lot of safety standards used by the federal government,” Charlie Ward, a union pilot with United, said at San Francisco International Airport on Monday. “We’ve been largely responsible for how the system operates, and now United is turning their backs on us.”
Ward was not questioning the professionalism of the outsourced pilots—those workers meet Federal Aviation Administration regulations — but he said the regional carriers simply lack the crucial safety
training and experience of ALPA crews.
“Operationally, our system isn’t perfect, but America is the safest place to fly in the world,” Ward said. “That could change if airlines continue to ignore veteran pilots.”
Ward said United is only using the regional carriers because they are less expensive. He said union crews have taken significant salary and pension reductions since 9/11, and that 1,400 union pilots have been furloughed as a result of United’s outsourcing practices. The union has not ruled out the possibility of a strike if contract talks — particularly dealing with outsourcing — do not improve soon, Ward said.
Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United, said it was surprising that ALPA was bringing up this issue now, since the airline has been using regional carriers for years. Those airlines allow United to reach smaller airports that would be inaccessible and economically inefficient with its mainline crew, she said. McCarthy also questioned the union’s assertion that 60 percent of its flights are now being manned by outsourced crews. She said 87 percent of United “seat miles” — its annual travel distance — were staffed by union workers.
“Safety is our top priority at United, and we hold all regional carriers to high standards,” McCarthy said.