UAL pilots call for chief executive's resignation

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The pilots union at UAL Corp’s United Airlines called for UAL Chief Executive Glenn Tilton to resign on Monday, spotlighting the increasingly thorny relationship between the airline and its most powerful union.

In a statement, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said the airline needs new leadership to improve its operations as well as its financial standing.

“Under Glenn Tilton’s tenure, United has gone from being the finest airline in the world, with the best route structure and safety record, to a shell of its former self,” said UAL Captain Steve Wallach, chairman of the United Master Executive Council, in a statement. Wallach also is a member of UAL’s board of directors.

UAL said the call for Tilton’s resignation is meant to distract public attention from a lawsuit filed last month by the carrier, which accused the labor group of misusing sick leave and taking other steps that led to hundreds of flight cancellations.

“This is an obvious and predictable attempt to deflect attention from ALPA’s illegal activity cited in our lawsuit, which details the organized and concerted effort to harm our customers, our employees and our performance; and is part of the union’s ongoing two-year campaign to intimidate United into reopening a contract that runs through December 2009,” UAL said in a statement.

The union has been at odds with airline management over concessions pilots made more than two years ago while the carrier was in bankruptcy.

Anger flared up again lately over UAL’s plans to lay off 950 pilots as part of a major domestic capacity cut.

United and its top rivals are cutting staff and capacity to cope with their fuel bills that have raged out of control as the price of oil soared to a record high last month.

The union also noted a steep decline in UAL share prices since the carrier left bankruptcy in 2006. UAL stock is down about 70 percent since February 2006, compared with the Amex airline index, which is down about 27 percent.

“We believe that with the intense challenges facing our industry, United Airlines will not be able to thrive as long as Glenn Tilton, with his proven record of incompetence, continues as CEO,” Wallach said.

Airline consultant Robert Mann said ALPA has no leverage to oust the CEO except to lobby board members.

Reporting by Kyle Peterson; Editing by Derek Caney, Gary Hill