SAD: Airline Unions Band Together, Ask Government To Ban Better Air Travel

Several air travel unions are going to the government, trying to get new air carriers banned, because they are… legal and competitive. They even cite offering a better, more compelling product to passengers as a problem.

Regional carrier SkyWest created a subsidiary to run public charter flights under FAA Part 135 rules. This lets then fly planes with no more than 30 seats which have a captain that meets the 1500 hour rule but allows a co-pilot with fewer hours.

The plan involved taking CRJ-200 50-seat regional jets and taking out seats. That’s actually great for passengers. And SkyWest planned to do this on poor-performing routes, where there weren’t that many passengers to begin with, like subsidized Essential Air Service routes. That keeps air service to small cities which are rapidly seeing flights dry up amidst a pilot shortage.

The Air Line Pilots Association blew a gasket. They fought hard for the 1500 hour rule. It limits entry into the profession, making it more expensive and take longer to become a pilot. Pilot shortages are great for pilot wages and leverage in negotiations.

JSX also keeps planes capped at 30 seats under part 135 which allows them to operate with co-pilots that have fewer hours (they have some of the most senior captains in the business, including the most senior widebody captains retired from major airlines) as well as fly from private terminals using their own security. They offer more space per passenger, a better ground and air experience, and in many cases flights on routes nobody else serves.

In going after SkyWest, ALPA is now teaming up with a number of other unions to try to get a crackdown on these businesses which are operating legally that they do not like. They’re now targeting JSX too.

They call part 135 a “loophole” allowing carriers to “skirt safety and security regulations” although, in fact, there nothing at all to suggest they’re not at least as safe as other carriers. Passengers don’t go through standard TSA, but they go through security procedures that may be… better than TSA. (Their paean to the wonders of TSA screeners is something of an odd take.)

They villify JSX for offering a better product (!) that is “hassle free” but that not everyone “can afford.” They suggest that “this model threatens ..access for many communities without a mix of business and leisure fares” (presumably because anyone paying too much for a worse product on a major airline would switch to a better JSX experience) when in fact:

  1. It’s the pilot shortage that’s threatening service to small communities
  2. Those communities have been losing this service already and these businesses are a way to fly in underserved markets
  3. And JSX operates predominantly point-to-point routes under 500 miles

JSX ERJ-145 Interior

This union effort suggests that part 135 can be used to circumvent minimum rest and isn’t that scary but JSX attracts senior captains by letting nearly all of them spend the night at home each day they choose to schedule work.

They are also clear that they do not want small jets to fly because of “elevated emissions and increased airspace congestion.”

  • They claim to be concerned with small market flying on the one hand, but turn around and say they don’t want planes that are best-equipped to serve small markets.
  • And they complain about the emissions from regional jets, while representing pilots at major airline subsidiaries and partners flying these same jets often mostly empty on subsidized routes.
  • They’re literally… airline unions complaining about the emissions from flying.

To these unions, it’s explicitly according to this letter fine for airlines to do things they call compromising safety in small markets that do not employ their members. Residents of those towns should take risks when flying, under this view. In fact they want residents of these towns to take such ‘risks’ that they otherwise decry if it means more passengers that connect to major airlines, supporting more union employment.

We understand the vital role many Part 135 operators play in offering passenger and cargo service to remote areas and underserved markets, creating a linkage to the larger aviation system for U.S. citizens that otherwise would not be possible…

To be sure it’s savvy to say they’re not attacking Essential Air Service subsidized routes, since members of Congress representing the recipients of such subsidies often find their way onto Congressional committees overseeing airlines. But it’s a weird line to walk when they only see a threat that passengers might prefer a service offered by a competitor where their members are employed that they decide it’s suddenly a problem.

It seems to me that JSX, which is already operating and operating legally, is a harder union ask of the Biden administration to kill. The real target here is SkyWest, whose new operation is not yet approved. If SkyWest is allowed to operate its proposed subsidiary, pilots will be able to log hours while getting paid making it easier to address the pilot shortage. And a greater supply of pilots reduces ALPA’s leverage.

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. I can guarantee you that if there were to be an accident on this operation many would not share your opinion that these are as safe or safer than FAR 121 certified carriers. Your observation that Skywest has experienced Captains is for the most part correct (although they are always getting new Captains). But to suggest that they can compensate for an inexperienced First Officer has no basis in fact. A retired wide body Captain may have zero experience as a training Captain and statistically age alone would suggest less safety, not more. Also interesting is that you don’t think that the 1500 rule increases safety, then bring up SkyWest’s more experienced Captain’s as a factor that makes them more safe. Number of hours and age are always arbitrary, but it’s really the only way to try and promote a safe operation. Voting, driving, and buying a gun are all predicated on the same principle even though nit everyone fit the mold.

  2. Unions are the cancer of this country. They already killed railroad industry and steel industry.

    If we don’t cut off those cancer cells, airline industry won’t be healthy.

  3. The 1500 hour rule isn’t a bad one

    Reducing that impacts public safety

  4. @Mets fan. I say this in all honesty without trying to o be snarky: Does it? Show me the data that there’s a meaningful drop in safety between 1500 and say 1200 hours. If it’s simply a case of more experience makes flying safer, then why not a 2000 hour or 2500 hour requirement. Did anyone do some analysis and determine at 1500 hours safety drops off markedly? I’m honestly curious.

  5. From Gary: “Indeed no demonstrable drop in safety without 1500 hours”

    Then the reverse must be true and then experience does not increase safety.

    And do you also propose there should be no age or experience (hours) to get an ATP?

  6. “Unions are the cancer of this country.”
    They have brought about such awful things as the 40 hour work week, paid vacation days, sick days, child labor laws, etc. If a union is going to help me get paid like an actor or a professional athlete, sign me up. They’re doing something right.

  7. The real Elephant in the room on safety that the Feds refuse to address is commuting (particularly long distance commuting) into their trip. A percentage of commuters responsibly get to their departure city, get a hotel room (crash pad) and get a rest before they fly.
    However the majority get in a few hours before departure, try to grab a nap in the comfortable crew lounge recliners (Buffalo) and then dog fly. So when did their ‘duty day’ start? 1500 hours has nothing to do with improving safety!

  8. I work in the industry as a pilot and I can tell you first hand that the protections from the 1500 hour rule are just now coming into focus. There is a shortage of qualified pilots, and I’m here to tell you not anyone can do this job. I see first hand the degradation in the quality of applicants. Things like check ride failures, accident or incidents, and overall lack of experience are being ignored in certain aspects of the industry. It’s one thing to look the other way for your own personal pilot, quite another for the average consumer which is who the regulations are designed to protect.

    I’m seeing pattern here with your anti union and limited industry view. You’re assumptions are not just ignorant, but are bordering on dangerous. It is painful to see such a lazy article written clearly without any significant research into the issues at hand, which are not surprising more complex than what is portrayed here.

  9. My thought is, what do the other airline managements think of this proposal…are they for it, against it or none of the above? Do they have a dog in this fight?

  10. Unions used to be a force for, if not good, at least less evil.

    Now they are just another corporation.

  11. @Dan Sutter – so odd that people who don’t like conclusions think it must be without “significant research” and is “lazy” when in fact you don’t confront any of the issues with your own position.. such as the safety of aviation in Europe (where U.S. pilots and airlines fly, and note that European pilots are allowed to operate in U.S. airspace) and isn’t that “lazy”?

  12. It’s a complete lie that JSX passengers aren’t screened. They use inconspicuous weapon detectors which have a MUCH higher success rate than the TSA at detecting weapons.

  13. “It’s a complete lie that JSX passengers aren’t screened. They use inconspicuous weapon detectors which have a MUCH higher success rate than the TSA at detecting weapons.”

    JSX does not restrict or check for liquids. And I see no data that their inconspicuous detection has a higher success rate than TSA.

  14. So not only do you want to lower pilot requirements, but you want to be able to bring flammable or explosive liquids/gels on an airplane. Why screen at all?

  15. The real issue here is the use of a Part 135 air carrier on a scheduled basis. That is contrary to what a Part 135 is allowed to do. “Part 135 is a certificate required by the Federal Aviation Administration for a company to operate as a non-scheduled air charter carrier.”

  16. I’m still interested in any actual data that shows there was a meaningful increase in piloting errors below 1500 hours. Something figure like the poorly made image below that would suggest, “Wow! There are more pilot errors with less experience, but fewer errors as experience increases, and then it levels off a lot around 1500 hours.” Something to suggest there was a basis for “1500” or was it a number pulled out of thin air?


  17. Jeez, the comment tool doesn’t like the increasing number of spaces I entered at the start of each line. But hopefully people can get the idea….

  18. What’s sad is a lot of people think there is a free market, there is capitalism, and there is freedom when none exist. The current rule already means certain carriers and business models have a monopoly. Unions have bankrupted the automotive industry, the steel industry, the airline industry many times over, and ruined everything from the postal service to the police.

  19. @Dave: You do know that both of the Colgan pilots had more than 1,500 hours and both had ATP certificates, right? The FO had 2,244 hours.

    Honestly, I do think 250 hours is not enough, though. There have been quite a few crashes involving low-hour pilots around the world in the past decade and a half. But 1,500 seems to be pushing it too far the other way. Something more like 500 or 750 would be more reasonable, in my opinion.

  20. I agree with Dan Sutter and would also add your this article and your conclusions in it are short-sighted and motivated by your own selfish desire for convenience.

    I can’t believe you think *decreasing* operating experience for pilots is a good idea. The fact that the rationale for this is always couched with references to a “pilot shortage” only makes it more outrageous. You also fail to explain how taking 20 seats out of a 50 seat airplane justifies decreased experience requirements for a pilot of a CRJ-500.

    Travel bloggers seem to be so rabid in pursuit of rewards travel, perks, pre-departure cocktails, etc that they always come back to the same bogeyman… Unions. Then they make lazy headlines like “unions (want to ) ban better air travel.)

    You are rationalizing yourself into a dangerous situation. And I have no doubt that should an unfortunate incident occur from this, you and your ilk would be quick to turn around and scapegoat the FAA.

  21. Please allow me to comment on the “union” portion of this opinion piece as a former 30-year member of ALPA. ALPA is an association similar to others like the AMA, the ABA, etc. National ALPA lacks the muscle of say: a New York plumbers or electrical union because of the origin of many of its member companies. While the author would have you believe ALPA is fighting against this because Skywest is not an ALPA member, rather this issue should be seen for what it is: a work-around of the application of the FARS for passenger travel. Part 121 of the FARS governs scheduled passenger travel because the traveling public has the right to expect certain levels of safety when booking travel. Part 135 is for un-scheduled charter service, not regular passenger service. Part 135 has lower standards than 121 because of the nature of its service. The Wall Street Journal opined some time ago: “Companies with poor management employee relationships get the unions they deserve.” That is especially true for the airline industry. Not all US major carriers belong to ALPA, see American and Southwest. Individual pilot performance is difficult to quantify in the real world with all its contributing factors such as weather, ATC, aircraft issues, etc. Management has attempted to pick winners and losers by trying to quantify some aspects of pilot performance but eventually, these schemes are discarded as unworkable. Today’s pilot unions primarily protect the seniority system and employment contract the pilots work under. This is actually a good thing for the individual pilot: the job offers those typically shunned in employment and advancement the opportunity to work in an environment unfettered by such typical personal standards. Airline management has brought about the “great pilot shortage” by itself. For years when pilot supply was plentiful, they degraded the job to the point where insufficient numbers entered the profession to replace departing members. Now management wants to shortcut the rules derived from poor management operational decisions of their pilot workforce. If one wants a new conversation about the 1500-hour rule, then have that conversation in public in the appropriate forum. Skywest’s attempt to evade such a conversation by initiating a Part 135 alter ego carrier is not in the public interest. Nor is blaming National ALPA for pointing this fact out.

  22. Nope. That’s my cue. Anti-union, pro-management, boot licking B.S. I have enjoyed reading these little blurbs for a couple years now, but eventually, people will show their whole asses. And when they do, I simply say my piece and move on to the next prospective disappointment. No more clicks from this IP address.

  23. The comments are pretty hilarious- current pilots and airline union folks are up in arms screaming to get off their (perceived) lawn “raaaa- you’re saying less training is good, that’s terrible and will cause multiple deaths, you wait and see”.

    No, what he (and others) have questioned is the reason 1500 hrs. is the gold standard. Is there any data to show there is a material drop off from, say the 500 hrs. the 1st officer needs to the 1,500 mandate. So far no one has shown any proven data in support of this, just anecdotal statements based on confirmation bias, to support their claims. Since we’ve been flying and training pilots for a good while now, the data, would prove or disprove your argument.

    And to the comment about liquids- a lot of European airports have tossed the 3.4 once liquid rule, along with the shoe rule. But in America, once we enact something, we refuse to repeal it even when the technology in place makes the rule moot or there is no data showing it helped anything out at all.

  24. Brad B.

    Re: “No, what he (and others) have questioned is the reason 1500 hrs. is the gold standard. Is there any data to show there is a material drop off from, say the 500 hrs. the 1st officer needs to the 1,500 mandate. So far no one has shown any proven data in support of this, just anecdotal statements based on confirmation bias, to support their claims. Since we’ve been flying and training pilots for a good while now, the data, would prove or disprove your argument.”

    I think your concerns were addressed at the hearings held for the implementation of the 1500 hour rule. All involved parties had their turn to express their views in public. I was a flight instructor for over ten years, I don’t necessarily disagree with your concerns of 1500 hours. The real issue is quantity over quality. That is why military pilots are afforded a lesser hour total over civilian pilots. The training difference and the flying environment. Buzzing around the airport complex for 1500 hours hardly gets you the experience to be a good airline pilot.

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