US Air Aims for Unity

US Airways is the first legacy airline to try negotiating a pilot contract after getting out of Chapter 11.

The average America West pilot is in his mid-40s. That pilot has less than 10 years at the airline, which started flying in 1983. Captains on all aircraft earn about $142,000.

"We have a proud heritage, too," says John McIlvenna, vice chairman of the AWA pilots. "We are the only airline founded in the immediate post-deregulation of the 1980s world that is still around today, and we have worked hard to make that happen."

Besides the internal conflicts, the pilots are also skirmishing with the company.

Last December, US Airways pilot leaders banned negotiators from flying to the airline's headquarters in Phoenix for contract talks. The move came after the airline stopped providing confirmed seats to other union representatives flying on union business, such as to attend a grievance hearing.

"It's hard enough for a volunteer to fly somewhere on his off day to represent a member, and now he can get bumped off his flight," Gentile says.

Recently, pilots objected after securities filings indicated that several executives cashed in on the rapid run-up in the airline's stock since the merger. Parker exercised options that enabled him to sell 272,250 shares for a pretax gain of $9 million. In June, four other officers exercised options, generating a combined pretax gain of $8.8 million.

"Our guys see what happened to us in bankruptcy, and then they see this," Stephan says. "It's a fairness issue. "

Nevertheless, a round of negotiations last week was the most successful yet, he says. The company agreed to provide extra pay of a few dollars an hour for Caribbean flying, a benefit that was lost during bankruptcy, and to improve pay for "deadheading," or required flying to or from a work assignment.

"After nine months of Draconian tactics, the company finally started to make some moves to recognize that things aren't all going to be cost-neutral," Stephan says. "We were heartened to see it."

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