American Airlines Pilots Seek Raise

Pilots at American Airlines are seeking an across-the-board pay raise and more control over scheduling as the two sides begin early contract talks.

Pilots at American Airlines are seeking an across-the-board pay raise and more control over scheduling as the two sides begin early contract talks.

The Allied Pilots Association said it also wants incentive pay plans aligned with those of senior managers.

AMR Corp.'s American seeks "market-based" health and retirement plans and scheduling that boosts productivity, according to a company letter that the union also posted on its Web site.

Neither side gave details of their proposals, which were exchanged Wednesday.

The negotiations start as AMR, which won $1.8 billion in annual employee cost cuts in 2003, trails U.S. competitors in pilot productivity. The pilots remain upset over about $100 million in bonuses paid earlier this year to managers.

American in July sought early talks on the contract for its 10,000 pilots, which isn't scheduled for changes until May 2008.

"The payouts have really poisoned the well, to pick one of many analogies," said Robert W. Mann, a consultant who has worked with Fort Worth-based American's pilots and with airlines. "But at the end of the day it's going to come down to the productivity and what the pilots will get in exchange for working more."

The union's own study shows that American pilots average about 51 hours of actual flying time each month, while pilots at Southwest Airlines Co. fly an industry-leading 64 hours a month. Those averages don't include work before and after flying. Pilots are paid only for the time the aircraft is moving.

Sue Gordon, an AMR spokeswoman, said the company's initial proposals lack detail because the airline wants the talks to be as far-ranging as possible.

"We hope to explore the whole range of issues including productivity, work rules and compensation" and specifics would limit the discussions, she said in an interview Wednesday.

AMR wants improved productivity to help catch up to UAL Corp.'s United Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp., all of which lowered their pilot costs through the bankruptcy process. Concessions by AMR's pilots and other employees helped the company avoid bankruptcy in 2003.

Continental Airlines Inc. has also lowered its pilot costs by winning concessions.

Pay for American's pilots ranges from $35 an hour as a newly hired first officer on the carrier's MD80 aircraft to $199 an hour as a 12-year captain on its Boeing 777s.

Along with higher pay, the union wants more job security if the airline runs into financial trouble. About 2,400 American pilots are laid off, with little hope of returning to the carrier unless American expands its schedule.

Talks could focus on the maximum hours per month most pilots can fly, now at 78. Increasing that number could let pilots earn more, while forcing layoffs because American isn't expanding and wouldn't need as many pilots if work-rule changes improve productivity.

"As we begin negotiations, the time has come to provide our pilots with a return on their investment in the airline," Ralph Hunter, the union's president, said in a statement.

AMR shares rose 44 cents to close at $24.69 on the New York Stock Exchange. They have gained 11 percent this year.

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