American Airlines pilots, represented by the Allied Pilots Association (APA), have filed a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt to the carrier’s flights to mainland China.

This came shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak in China an international public health emergency on 30 January.

The union represents 15,000 pilots flying for the carrier. It notes in its lawsuit that American currently operates about 56 monthly flights between Dallas/Fort Worth International airport and China.

Furthermore, the carrier’s plans to suspend flights between Los Angeles International airport and China do not take effect until 9 February.

Cirium schedules that shows that for the month of January, American Airlines scheduled 108 direct flights between Dallas Fort Worth and Los Angeles to Beijing Capital and Shanghai Pudong airports in China. This currently stands at 98 in February and 121 in March.

APA estimates that each American crew member working a trip to China needs to be on the ground for approximately 32 hours between flights to comply with federal rest regulations.

“We estimate that as many as 300 passengers and crew travel to Dallas/Forth Worth alone from Chinese cities on each American Airlines flight. To us, that level of risk is unacceptable,” says APA president, Eric Ferguson.

The union also refers to warnings issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and advisories by other health organisations against all non-essential travel to China. It notes that other carriers have suspended flights to China “out of an abundance of caution”.

“The APA leadership has asked American Airlines management to follow suit, but to date they have not cancelled any US-China flights. We are therefore compelled to seek injunctive relief,” says APA.

In a 30 January statement, Ferguson implored APA members to decline assignments to China.

“Due to the known and unknown risks associated with traveling to China right now, concurrent with the filing of our lawsuit, we are directing all American Airlines pilots assigned to flights between the United States and China, other than those on return trips to the United States, to decline the assignment.”