Biden Administration Receptive to Labor Concerns, ALPA Says
The new administration is receptive to labor’s requests and has been a refreshing change for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), union President Joe DePete said in a media roundtable last week.
The first of its requests recently passed Congress and was signed into law by President Joseph Biden: a $14 billion extension of the federal payroll support program for airline workers through September. But now, ALPA is pressing lawmakers and newly installed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on other policy recommendations.
Among these is changing regulations governing flight and rest time for cargo pilots. Currently, pilots operating passenger flights and those helming cargo flights are subject to different flight and rest regulations, which DePete said needs changing. ALPA is urging Congress to pass the Safe Skies Act, which would bring cargo pilots under the same rules as passenger pilots.
Another priority for ALPA is ensuring that airspace modernization, a multi-year project commonly known as “NextGen,” is finally implemented. New aircraft will be outfitted with the necessary equipment to comply with NextGen, but DePete stressed that the in-service fleet also should be retrofitted with NextGen-capable equipage.
ALPA also wants labor considerations to play a more important role in U.S. evaluations of airline joint ventures, as well as for the federal government to withhold foreign air carrier permits from what DePete called “flag of convenience” airlines. When asked about Norse Atlantic Airways, the new venture planned by several former Norwegian Air executives, DePete said Congress and the Transportation Department needs to examine the carrier’s labor practices before issuing a permit.
This issue came to a head a few years ago when Norwegian Air International applied for a foreign air carrier permit for flights between the UK and Ireland to the U.S. “This was forum shopping at its worst,” DePete said. “It was a corporate Frankenstein monster put together with a bunch of dead parts.”
“I am glad to see NAI collapsed under its own weight,” he said, adding that ALPA welcomed “fair competition.” ALPA, along with several other unions and airlines on both sides of the Atlantic, sought to stop NAI’s permit, alleging that the carrier violated the U.S.-EU open skies agreement by basing itself in Ireland to avoid tougher Norwegian labor laws. Ultimately, the U.S. granted it a permit. Norwegian recently said it was retrenching from the longhaul, low-cost model to focus on its home market and shorthaul European flights, primarily for financial reasons.
Turning to the dustup between Hong Kong and the U.S. over pilot quarantines, DePete applauded the Transportation Department’s recent ruling that Hong Kong airlines file their flight plans seven days in advance. Hong Kong’s quarantines put U.S. cargo carriers at a competitive disadvantage and are a hardship for pilots, who must quarantine in “deplorable” conditions, DePete said.
The Hong Kong regulations don’t require Cathay Pacific pilots to quarantine after a flight from Anchorage, while U.S. pilots arriving from anywhere else in the U.S. must. ALPA has asked U.S. carriers not to lay over in Hong Kong until the issue is resolved, DePete said.