American Airlines pilots union cites progress in labor talks

Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:12pm EDT

Oct 23 (Reuters) - The union representing American Airlines pilots said on Tuesday that talks on a new labor contract with the airline were moving forward, but the airline said only that it was continuing to work toward a deal.

American and its parent AMR Corp have made "encouraging" changes to some positions in recent talks, said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

"As long as AMR continues in this fashion, then progress is being made ... and at some point there's no more items to discuss," he said.

American declined to comment on Tajer's remarks, but said in a statement issued by spokesman Bruce Hicks: "American Airlines remains committed to reaching a consensual agreement that addresses the interests of our pilots and meets the economic needs of the company.

"We will continue to work hard at the negotiating table to do just that. As we said at the beginning of the negotiations, we are not going to provide any updates."

American and its pilots have been negotiating a labor contract since 2006. Last November, the airline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to restructure and reduce costs as some other major U.S. airlines have done. The airline also is evaluating a potential merger with US Airways Group.

Earlier this year, American reached agreement on concessionary contracts with its major work groups except the pilots, who voted down a tentative agreement in August.

Ray Neidl, an aerospace analyst with Maxim Group, said the airline and the pilots badly want an agreement and that he expects an accord soon.

American wants to exit bankruptcy, Neidl said. Even though the airline is not required to have a pilot agreement to exit, "I think they are feeling heat from the creditors that they want an agreement."

Tajer said pay and outsourcing of work to pilots not represented by the union were still at issue in the talks.

"Some of the more contentious issues are pay and scope," he said.

Tajer said the airline had improved on an earlier, tentative agreement by offering better disability plan terms and moving Boeing 737-700 and Airbus A319 pilots into the same pay band as those who fly the larger-capacity 737-800 plane.

American and its parent, based in Fort Worth, Texas, also agreed to moratoriums on closing pilot bases, the union said.

American and the union went back to the bargaining table earlier this month after September flight cancellations and delays that American blamed on a slowdown campaign by pilots. Incidents in which seats came unbolted from the floor on American flights in recent weeks also raised concerns about safety at the airline, which is the third-largest U.S. carrier.

The pilots union has said it has not called a work slowdown against the airline.

A U.S. bankruptcy judge in September allowed American Airlines to toss out its old collective bargaining agreement with the pilot union and impose stricter work terms as it restructures, further inflaming tensions with the pilots. The union is appealing that decision.

Pilots at American have stressed a desire for a labor contract that is on par with those at rivals such as Delta Air Lines.

Pilots union members at Delta, the least unionized of the major U.S. carriers, ratified a new labor deal in June that provided a 4 percent pay rate increase as of July 1, among other benefits.

Tajer said that even if the pilots union reached a tentative agreement with American, it still supported a merger with US Airways.