American Airlines Pilots Stonewall Investigators After Near Collision With Delta Jet [Roundup]

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. A unions number one job is do negotiate and defend their agreement. Their second job is to advocate for other things such as safety. In defending their pilots, they are defending their agreement with the Carrier. I know you hate unions, but your comment is a cheap shot. The NTSB will get the information they need. The pilots are fighting to keep their jobs. Pilots are a unique bunch in that what it takes to get to the level they are at takes a lot of time and money. They have way more invested in their careers than you do in your blog. Safety is always at the top of their priority list. Just remember, the first ones to die in a plane crash are usually the pilots, not the passengers. So there is a self-interest in safety, since their butts are the first to die, and they fly waaay more than you or I do, putting them at even greater risk than any passenger. So get off your high horse.

  2. The NTSB has subpoenaed the pilots as they have the legal right to do.
    The pilots’ licenses are on the line. They were clearly at fault and were negligent in flying a plane across the Atlantic instead of notifying the company that they were not fit to fly – as was apparent the minute they taxied in front another aircraft contrary to what ATC told them to do.
    How a union can argue that they are interested in safety and then try to block a process that is focused on maximizing safety shows precisely why the APA is worthless.
    They not only have repeatedly failed to deliver economically benefits but they now stand for obstructing safety.
    The AA pilots are not being asked to do anything that any other pilot or participant in a civil or criminal investigation would be asked to do.
    And the Delta pilots DID cooperate with investigators, gave statements on the feds’ terms, and Delta undoubtedly did allow ATC access to DL’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

  3. The pilot’s union is not interested in truth or safety. Their only purpose is to save their member’s jobs at all cost… even if it means lying and obstructing an investigation. It’s happened over and over.

  4. The 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right not to incriminate themselves.The 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees every person the right of “due process”. Maybe you should read the Constitution. While I am not in favor of unions, per se, I can understand the pilot’s unions. The FAA wants the pilot’s certificate and the airline wants the pilot’s job. In this case, the union stands as a mediator among the parties involved. I suggest that you stick to writing about hotel and credit card deals and stay out of airline operations, of which, you have no expertise.

  5. Gary… I know based on a lot of things you comment about in aviation that you have gone off the rails in covering content. You really should stick to products and points. What union WOULDN’T support the pilots. Don’t fly someone else’s airplane. None of us were physically in the flight deck . There’s so many moving pieces to an investigation. If you were accused of something guilty or not… do you talk to the feds !? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Pilots PAY the unions thousands of dollars per year for support in these situations. At the end of the day … the NTSB and FAA will conclude their “safety “ investigation. I’m gonna flip your comment and say. If you think the FAA cares about safety … hahaha. All they care about is … well. I have NO CLUE. I guarantee you that unions actually have a bigger impact on aviation safety than the feds. The feds wait for disaster to change rules … unions are always pushing for regulations to protect the humans who operate aircraft. I’m not a big union supporter , I understand how people feel about them but as long as there is a union in place … the pilots who make up that union will be supported in investigations, especially when it’s an ASAP mistake. Human error , fixable , trainable.

  6. @WIN spot on buddy. I’d love to see how anyone who writes an article like this would like to be treated if it were them under investigation.

  7. The NTSB is responsible for identifying the cause of consequential mistakes, not meting out justice. They identify root causes and recommend changes. As a hypothetical, if the crew were based in LA, but had to deadhead to JFK to fly because of the reduction in widebody flying out of LAX by AA, they may have been tired before they started the flight, and commuted into LAX to start the day. This could result in recommendations to include commuting and deadheading as part of the duty day. This might require them to arrive a day early, at the expense of the airline and pilots personal life.

    The problem for the pilots comes in as that the reports are public, and could be used for disciplanary actions by the FAA or AA. With a the time it takes to issue a subpoena, the pilots also lose more of their detailed memory of the event. They can also plead the 5th. But, this should be like a police officer, where if they plead the 5th to the NTSB, they are immediately fired, or at least lose their license.

  8. @win @smr nicely said. I work in a different industry with significant safety concerns and a relatively high error rate. We have some legal protections in place during safety investigations that allow us to speak openly about what occurred without negative consequences. Most of the time. However, there is still some personal risk associated with participating in the safety investigations. Paranoia is high. I’ve been involved in these activities for over 20 years, and I tell my junior colleagues if they ever get notification of such an investigation to immediately retain an attorney and seek legal advice to protect themselves.

    @gary, it is pretty clear you have no idea how these sorts of investigations work, the consequences involved, even if, as the at-fault worker, you cooperate. If I were those pilots, I would absolutely seek legal advice, require the NTSB to compel me to testify, and do so with legal counsel, and the aid of people who are a lot smarter about this sort of thing than I am.

    To characterize this action as “stonewalling“ is pure clickbait and nonsense. Stonewalling is what politicians do when they refuse to cooperate with authorities over a period of nearly a year. (Or longer)

    I would encourage you to redact or correct this misleading article. The pilots union is mostly concerned with their pilots. I do believe, as a group, pilots primary concern is safety. The primary concern of American airlines, Delta and the rest of them is maximizing return to shareholders. Neither approach is necessarily bad in annd of itself, and the tension between the two, I believe, allows for good shareholder, return with a high degree of safety.

    So, wholesale criticism of the pilots union actions is misplaced.

  9. I’m quite shocked by the action of the union. Is this just like the police union? No matter if they are responsible, they’ll defend their own? I also wonder if Delta pilots will CYA their AA pilots counterparts? Is so, aren’t their public interests lawyer that’d love take on the pilot unions then for big cash out? I brother is a retired pilot who was disgusted with pilot union and went to work for foreign airlines. I often find union members hilarious. Like once I saw a Subaru with a bumper stick, work union live better. Did he know that Subaru 8000 workers in Indiana aren’t unionized? Why does he buy the crap made by his UAW brothers and sisters. LOL.

  10. To all mentioning constitution and rights- correct for criminal prosecution, not correct as relates to their license.

    A pilot’s license is not a protected right via the constitution.

    Union’s have pros and cons, in this case the process will play out and the pilot’s should at a minimum be suspended and in my opinion not be allowed to fly commercial again. Their mistake was bad, their judgement post mistake is what makes me not want them responsible for me or anyone I care for..

  11. “Stonewall” is an unfairly pejorative term in this case, IMHO. Even if the AA pilots were in error, as it appears they were, there is a process to investigate and determine what happened. Now, if the pilots plead the Fifth, well…that’s another issue.

    The blog’s sloppy word choice and editing should be a reminder that Gary is no journalist.

  12. Seems like you touched a nerve with the pilots union. Many seem to want to tell you how to run your blog. The facts seem pretty straight forward in this incursion. The recordings of clearances and read back will be investigated. I’m sure the FAA will make its ruling. I do think if they did cause a runway incursion then some type of retraining is in order. I don’t believe they will ever make that mistake again. I hope.

  13. I find it funny that people who don’t know, call it a “pilot license”. As an airline pilot instructor…IT IS A CERTIFICATE! There is a difference. Under AC 120-66B, the AA pilots can file an ASAP…Aviation Safety Action Program report. “These programs included incentives to encourage employees of air carriers participating in the programs to disclose information which may include possible violations of 14 CFR without fear of punitive enforcement sanctions or company disciplinary action.” The 5th Amendment can be invoked any time the government is involved. The 14th Amendment, again, allows due process.Through an administrative law judge, the NTSB, FAA can file criminal proceedings against the pilots. They are still allowed “due process”.

  14. According to @ Gary Leff’s article above:

    “The American Airlines pilots…refused to give a statement to the NTSB, according to a preliminary report”

    No. That is factually incorrect according to the very source cited.

    According to that very report:

    “Flight crew statements were received. In addition to the crew statements, NTSB attempted to interview the American Airlines flight crew “ (Aviation Investigation Preliminary Report (DCA23LA125) – NTSB)

    (FWIW we also learn from that report that (1) there was no CVR available from the Delta aircraft, and (2) chose not to interview the Delta pilots)

    According to @ Gary’s article above:

    “The American Airlines pilot union is defending the decision of the pilots not to speak to the NTSB, which is absurd.”

    According to the APA statement isn’t a refusal to talk speak to the NTSB, but a concern over how interviews will be recorded. Such interviews will in any case presumably have to go ahead within the 7 day mandate of the subpoenas.

    “we firmly believe the introduction of electronic recording devices into witness interviews is more likely to hinder the investigation process than it is to improve it.”

    So, Gary, you have effectively declared that any such concern to be “absurd”, perhaps you should explain why, as a non-expert with evidently very poor understanding of such investigations (like most of you commentators herein).

    Various reasons to support the APA position are available, ranging from fostering a non-adversarial context to conduct such an investigation to concerns about leakage and post hoc selective editing of the audio recordings demanded by the NTSB.

    Of course, these counterpoints won’t be aired in a balanced manner in yet another factually incorrect, misinformed, and one-side opinion piece purposed with the author’s bias towards union bashing.

    A gentle reminder that this is an investigation into the causes of an incident, not a professional misconduct case.

    Incidentally, the preliminary report includes data on the separation of the aircraft for anybody with a genuine rather than political interest.

    “…at the time AA106 entered on runway 4L at taxiway J, DAL 1943 had begun its takeoff roll increasing speed through 80 knots, and was abeam taxiway K3, about 2700 feet from the taxiway J intersection….the DAL 1943 crew aborted takeoff at about 100 knots and came to stop about 500 feet short of taxiway J. The closest point between the two aircraft was about 1400 feet and occurred as DAL 1943 decelerated past taxiway K4 and AA106 exited the runway at taxiway J”.

  15. I’m sorry Gary but that dude that rights that money laundering column doesn’t know how to write clear concise sentences or paragraphs.
    His brain is so mottled with industry jargon I fear for his well being and safety…..

  16. The NTSB now electronically records pilot interviews. This was never done in the past. A stenographer would take notes and a pilot would be allowed to review the report for errors. The pilots careers and family finances are on the line. These interviews could lead to criminal convictions and civil litigation. The union as a legal duty to represent the pilot under the Railway Labor Act. If not, they could be sued for duty affair representation.

    The airline forced new flows on the pilots Jan 3 to learn on their own time. There was zero training in the simulator. The pilots just started their duty day and were fit for duty. What an absurd statement from a previous post.
    It is a very busy during taxi out, especially for an international flight. The crew pulled over, spoke with the tower and were cleared to take off and continue with flight. If you were not directly involved, stop casting judgment. It becomes all specualtion and gossip.

    Isom and all the top AA executived need to be included in the NTSB investigation testifying under oath.

  17. Win-

    Hope that helps you and what you think is funny. I understand you’re upset that some prefer a proper review of safety take precedence over a union job, but you are dead wrong or simply ignorant.

    Yes, the pilots can choose to not cooperate, I am not arguing that. I am saying that the constitutional rights people keep throwing around are not relevant to the future of the pilots involved ability to act as commercial pilots..

    They should and will lose their livelihood despite all the effort to pretend this didn’t happen. As I alluded to earlier, the mistake itself may have been something a suspension and additional/remedial training may have been sufficient. The judgement after the incident is in my opinion what makes those involved not worthy of our trust. Frankly, those arguing differently fall into same bucket for me. The union is missing an opportunity to earn the public’s trust by not finding a solution that protects those involved, while most importantly making safety of all a priority. *before anyone says that is not the unions job, it is. Having the public trust and support the their members will lead to better pay and more security to more of their members.

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