American Airlines regional struggles to keep deliveries in line with pilot agreement

American Eagle is struggling to maintain the delivery rate of new Bombardier CRJ700 and Embraer ERJ-140 regional jets at three to four aircraft per month, while continuing to comply with its parent carrier's scope clause agreement with the Allied Pilots' Association (APA).

The American Airlines regional subsidiary has until now managed to offset the introduction of new regional jets by cutting its turboprop fleet, removing seat rows from aircraft and reducing operations. Under the terms of its contract agreement with APA, American has had to freeze the size of Eagle's operations in terms of available seat-kilometres and block times from last October as the result of furloughing mainline pilots.

"In the fourth quarter of last year this was not a problem as we had to take out capacity. Going forward this will become more of an issue and American has asked the unions for relief to take new regional jets without cancelling services," says Tom Bacon, American Eagle senior vice-president marketing and planning. But negotiations with the union have been at deadlock since it rejected a proposed amended labour contract last year.

Eagle has taken delivery of its first four new CRJ700s, all since early February, and this will rise to 10 70-seaters by the end of the year. Eagle has 25 CRJs on order. At the same time the 44-seat ERJ-140 fleet will grow from 15 at the end of last year to 43 by December. To keep capacity at 1 October levels, the airline has cancelled services to six markets, reduced frequencies on other routes, removed seat rows from its Saab 340s and ATR 42/72s and begun to accelerate retirement of the turboprops.

The airline has put 15 of its 102 Saab 340s up for sale and has, in the interim, reduced the utilisation of its remaining turboprops, and, in the process, lowered maintenance costs. Eagle plans to retire the Saab fleet at the rate of 20 aircraft a year. Unless the APA agrees to a new deal, Eagle will be forced to begin selling some of its 56 ERJ-145s at the end of this year. By that time, CRJ700 deliveries will have put the carrier over the 67 aircraft limit on the number of regional jets larger than 44 seats allowed under the scope clause.

Bacon says the airline still has "other ideas to get through this year", including looking at "spinning off" wholly owned Executive Airlines. Removing the American code from Executive operation would put its fleet of 32 ATR 42/72s beyond the capacity limit, he says.

Source: Flight International