ALPA Pilots Meet to Hear About Challenges, Threats to Profession

ALPA pilots assembled in Los Angeles today to personally meet with ALPA president Capt. Lee Moak and Director of Government Affairs Michael Robbins to review collective bargaining and merger efforts, and to discuss what Moak called “the fight of our generation” to protect the aviation industry and pilot jobs in the United States.

The ALPA president systematically laid out the threats posed by foreign ownership, U.S. government support for foreign carriers through the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Abu Dhabi preclearance facility. U.S. carriers currently compete with foreign airlines, which receive preferential financing from the Export-Import Bank to purchase aircraft. U.S.-based airlines are not able to obtain the same preferential financing, placing them at an operational disadvantage.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Abu Dhabi preclearance facility is being constructed, despite congressional action to block it. As no U.S. carriers fly through Abu Dhabi, the facility, which is financed by U.S. tax payers, benefits only foreign airlines.

Some current air transportation liberalization proposals present the biggest threat to the piloting profession in the United States, Robbins said, adding that “if foreign ownership laws fall, if cabotage falls, then it’s over.”

The Gulf Carriers have the finances to buy the entire U.S. airline industry for less money than it would cost to purchase the aircraft they have on order. Their plan, Moak said, is “to take over all the flying in the world.” The experience of the U.S. merchant marines clearly demonstrates just what could happen. The U.S. maritime industry, which employed 100,000 Americans in 1960 did not work with government to protect itself and was reduced to 2,500 by 2010. In addition, some U.S.-owned ships are now registered in Libya.

Shifting to Europe, the ALPA president talked about Norwegian Air Shuttle, which is registering planes in Ireland, basing pilots in Bangkok, and employing them with individual contracts under Singapore’s labor laws. Norwegian Air Shuttle, he said, has its sights set on a U.S. pilot base next.

“We have to band together, or we’re not going to win this fight,” said Moak. “The rest of the world is falling quickly.”

ALPA’s goal is to create a level playing field and “fair skies,” as opposed to open skies, to allow U.S. pilots and carriers to compete at a global level. The good news, the pilots in attendance heard, is that ALPA pilots can prevail. Both Moak and Robbins called on every pilot in attendance to be a part of the solution: Talk to your fellow pilots and friends, retweet and repost ALPA’s posts on Twitter and Facebook, donate to ALPA-PAC, participate in Calls to Action, and contact your legislators.

“They’re playing full contact, and we’ve been playing flag,” said Moak. However, that disparity has changed and ALPA is fighting back.