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  • Pilot union blames American's decision to route Beijing service via O'Hare for failure to win China air services rights

Pilot union blames American's decision to route Beijing service via O'Hare for failure to win China air services rights

American Airlines’ decision last month to amend its application to serve Beijing from Dallas/Fort Forth is being blamed by the carrier’s pilot union as the reason for its failure to win the crucial US-China rights from government regulators.

Management at American on 8 December requested that the major’s previous application to offer daily Dallas/Fort Worth-Beijing service be amended to allow it to fly one-stop via Chicago O’Hare on the outbound DFW-Beijing leg.

The carrier said the 11th hour amendment was necessary because its pilot union had declined to waive a provision that caps on-duty time. Absent a waiver from the Allied Pilots Association (APA), American is unable to operate DFW-Beijing nonstop service outbound because the pilot on-duty time for that segment may exceed the cap, said the major.

The amendment effectively destroyed American’s chances of receiving the hotly pursued authority. In a statement tentatively awarding new US-China rights to United Airlines this week, the Department of Transportation noted that “any amendment this late in the proceeding would significantly delay the start of new service, while allowing American to withdraw its application as requested”.

In an online message to pilots today, the APA criticised management for amending its application, saying it had offered the carrier a signed letter of agreement authorizing the DFW-Beijing service.

The APA says it  does “not understand why management chose the more costly alternative of amending its application, rather than agreeing to APA’s reasonable proposal”.

It adds: “No employee group at American Airlines wanted to fly DFW-Beijing more than our pilots. Along with enabling the airline to compete on an equal footing for new China service, our proposal would also have provided management with additional flexibility not contained in our current contract with respect to other extended long-haul flying.”

Determining who is to blame may be a moot exercise at this time, unless the DoT receives viable objections to its tentative approval of United’s planned Washington Dulles-Beijing service.

United yesterday asked the DoT for permission to begin promoting the service, which will be operated daily with Boeing 747-400s from 25 March.

“If United were required to wait for the issuance of a final decision after the filing of objections and answers it would have less than two months (perhaps closer to one month) to begin marketing and sales activities before the new services must commence,” says the carrier.

“To effectively promote its new service and avoid the risk of having to operate largely empty aircraft during the early days of this service, United needs to begin advertising and selling those services as soon as possible.”

American could not be immediately reached to comment on the APA’s attack.

However, the carrier in a statement following United’s tentative win said: “American Airlines is disappointed that the United States Department of Transportation has chosen to reject its request to amend its application to offer nonstop service from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Beijing, China, to allow a stop in Chicago. Our application would have brought new service to an underserved area of the country and offered enhanced competition in the ever-growing China marketplace.

“We do want to thank the tens of thousands of employees, customers, passengers and travelers from across the country who supported our route case. It’s heartening to know that we had such widespread support and we sincerely thank everyone who sent in a letter on our behalf for their commitment to American.”

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