America West, US Airways agree E-190 flying will be mainline

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America West Airlines and US Airways have ratified a transition agreement with their respective pilot leaders that will limit Embraer 190 flying to mainline operations when the carriers merge, and establish the groundwork for a possible order of the 100-seat aircraft.

The pact - which has been agreed by officials at each carrier’s Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) unit - also sets terms for management’s acceptance of a merged seniority list, profit sharing and eventual negotiation on a single contract.

A spokesman for US Airways ALPA tells ATI the transition deal means management of the new US Airways will not be able to contract E-190 flying to regional affiliates, which he calls “a key piece of the agreement”.

ATI on August 1 revealed that America West and US Airways had issued a formal request for proposal (RFP) to Air Wisconsin, Mesa Air Group and Republic Airlines to operate up to 25 E-190s for the mainline carriers when they merge. That merger is expected later this month or early October.

That RFP was denounced just one day later by America West’s ALPA unit, which made it clear it would fight to assume such operations. The pilots union said any Embraer aircraft in the “E-190 and above” size range and any Bombardier aircraft in the “CSeries and above” range fall within current scope clauses, and should only be operated by mainline employees.

While America West’s collective bargaining agreement with its pilots does not permit E-190 flying by regional affiliates, US Airways’ contract permitted it under “certain provisions”.

Those loopholes have now been closed by the new agreement, which ensures the outsourcing of E-190 flying “cannot happen”, confirms the US Airways ALPA spokesman.

He says membership must still vote on certain E-190 conditions “because it significantly impacts their pay and working conditions”. The US Airways ALPA master executive council (MEC), however, is going to “strongly endorse” the E-190 terms as they set “competitive rates” for the flying and are “in the best interest of our membership”.

America West’s ALPA unit, in an internal memo to members, supports its counterpart at US Airways.

JR Baker, chairman of the America West MEC, says the new transition agreement “protects the flying and aircraft of our pilots and those at US Airways during the operational integration of the two airlines”, and preserves E-190 operations for the mainline carrier.

He adds that the deal “provides that the pilots at America West and US Airways will remain separate and covered by our own individual collective bargaining agreements until the operations are merged, which entails an integrated seniority list and negotiation of a single collective bargaining agreement”.

Baker notes that while the MEC is “disappointed that we did not address specific pay harmonization and ‘no furlough’ protections in this agreement, there are several non-economic issues that we were successful in achieving”.

“And we will tenaciously pursue the open economic and benefits issues when we enter into talks to merge the two agreements. This transition agreement will serve as a foundation as we work toward achieving those goals.”

News that the transition agreement will ensure E-190 operations are conducted by mainline may come as a blow to Republic, which was keen to assume the feeder responsibilities. The airline last month even brokered a revised pilot contract that would enable the company to operate up to 80 regional jets under a US Airways jets-for-jobs agreement, including the 25 E-190s.

At one point last month it appeared that the E-190 deal would go to Republic, with possible involvement by Air Wisconsin. The president of the America West unit of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA)-CWA Bill Lehman said America West chairman and CEO Doug Parker “very clearly told us that the E-190 will not be operated by mainline, but will be operated by regional partners”, after explaining that it would not be economical for the mainline carrier to operate the large regional jet.

Republic could not be reached for comment.

US Airways, meanwhile, applauds the new agreement. “We are pleased that all parties have worked constructively to resolve issues that could have delayed our emergence from Chapter 11 and believe that both management and labor are committed to a constructive relationship going forward,” it says in a statement.

It is not immediately clear if or when the post-merger US Airways intends to place the E-190 order.

The carrier and Embraer decline to comment.

A US Airways spokesman, however, previously told ATI that the carrier’s plan of reorganization “contemplates 90-seaters as part of our fleet plan, and they basically would replace some of the 50-seaters that would leave our fleet”.