Court Orders Pilots
Union To Stop Job Slowdown Campaign
By Mike Mitchell
September 28, 2011 - On Wednesday Judge Robert J. Conrad
of the U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C. entered an
order which would prohibited the pilots union at US
Airways from orchestrating a job slowdown, this after US
Airways claimed pilots were cancelling or delaying
flights in order to force the company into contract
Judge Conrad stated the union "has expressly tied the
success of their 'fight' for a new contract to actions
by their member pilots that would slow down the airline
but could be cloaked by a safety campaign."
Judge Conrad further stated US Airline Pilots Association "has encouraged a much broader job action through slogans like "Safety First" and "I'm On Board," and that there is insufficient evidence to hold Mr. Cleary, the union chief, individually responsible for the slowdown.
Conrad went on to say that US Airline Pilots Association "does
not dispute that it has encouraged pilots to change their
behavior regarding maintenance write-ups, calling in fatigued
and pre-flight procedures that affect taxi times." Judge Conrad
ordered the US Airline Pilots Association to refrain from
"instigating, authorizing or encouraging" the interference with
US Airways operations and instructed pilots to resume their
normal schedules and work practices.
August Ted Reed for TheStreet wrote that for the first time, a
US Airways (LCC) captain has publicly described an incident
where two security officials escorted her from the airport's
secure area after she would not fly a plane from Philadelphia to
Rome because of electrical system problems.
Valerie Wells, a 30-year pilot, discussed the June 16 incident
on Friday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, where she was the
star witness in the pilots union's defense against the airline's
suit alleging that a safety campaign is actually an illegal job
"I was exercising my authority as captain to operate the aircraft safely," said Wells. "It was indeed my obligation, but I feel stronger about it than my job. Those passengers are friends of the family. (And) that's an aircraft the company owns."
passengers and the aircraft, Wells said, her concerns included the
airplane's crew. "I felt especially that night that all those things
were in danger," she said.
On June 16, Wells
was scheduled to fly an Airbus A330 with nearly 300 passengers. But the
auxiliary power unit failed with the plane at the gate waiting to push
back, she said. In an aircraft, the engines are the primary power
source: the APU is a backup source of electrical power.
mechanics boarded the aircraft and restarted the APU. Since the airplane
can fly without a functional APU, the mechanics wanted to put the failed
device on a list of matters to be addressed at a future date so the
flight could depart. But Wells, who during the afternoon had heard
various reports of electrical system irregularities, no longer trusted
So Wells spoke by
phone with the airline's chief pilot in Philadelphia. Wells said he kept
asking whether she was refusing to fly. "I responded that I want to
fly," she said. "I want an airplane that's good. I want this airplane
fixed (or another airplane). He asked me five times, with me giving him
the same answer." Given that the union's safety campaign was underway,
the airline was apparently concerned that pilots were causing frequent
delays by being excessively meticulous in pursuing safety concerns.
Wells returned to
the cockpit. Mechanics had turned the APU off, so the cabin lacked air
conditioning. A flight attendant said some passengers showed signs of
heat stress, and Wells decided to let passengers disembark. By then, the
departure had been delayed about five hours. As Wells waited in a secure
area, two airline security officials approached, and told her "the ramp
tower had said to remove me from the gate area. I said 'Why?' They did
not know why."
It is extremely
unusual for airline security to escort captains from the airport. "In
all my years, I had never seen or heard anything like this," Wells said.
"I got my bag and my first officer walked with me, and the two men
followed us ten feet behind." The airline removed her from flying
status, the prelude to a disciplinary action, on June 16, but then
restored her on July 6, she said.
The airline has said only that Wells' removal "has nothing to do with safety," and has not commented specifically on the safety event. However, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a statement, saying the APU shutdown in the aircraft "is a failure that pilots are well aware can happen and that they are trained to recognize. The battery apparently was depleted by attempts to restart the APU."
The agency said aircraft often fly with inoperative APUs, without a safety risk, but "the captain simply chose to exercise her pilot-in-command authority of not accepting an aircraft." It said US Airways maintained the aircraft in accordance with regulations. The FAA did not mention the hot battery bus failure.
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