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Story About U.S. Airways Pilot

Wings Level

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US Airways pilot knows uncertainty 8-8-2002
http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2002/2002-08-08-pilot.htm

By Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY

While US Airways teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, many of its employees are learning to live with uncertainty.

This week, US Airways' pilots and flight attendants are voting on new contracts with wage and benefit cutbacks that would save the airline billions of dollars over the next seven years.

More is riding on their decisions than paychecks. For people like pilot Rich Pfenninger, a first officer who's 15th from the bottom of the pilot seniority list, careers are on the line, too.

US Airways' downsizing plans mean some people will lose jobs no matter how the votes go. Pfenninger is one of them.

But if the proposed contracts are voted down, even more people could lose their jobs.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, US Airways laid off nearly a quarter of its 46,000 employees. The airline has lost money for much of the past 10 years, but its problems are deepening. Management is trying to slash costs with the help of its unions and lenders and promises to reorganize in bankruptcy court if all parties don't cooperate.

"Up until Sept. 11, things couldn't have been more perfect," Pfenninger says. "I've been with the company five years now, and I'm making pretty good money. I'm engaged. My fiancee wants to get married soon, and we want to have a baby, but that's all on hold."

If Pfenninger sounds cautious, it's because he's been furloughed three times in his career already, the latest more than a decade ago at US Airways, and he's still junior enough to be considered vulnerable.

US Airways' pilots union estimates that at least 500 pilots could be furloughed, which would ground pilots who have been flying for US Airways as long as 13 years. Possibly twice as many pilots could be furloughed if the airline reorganizes in bankruptcy court.

"I haven't had one good night's sleep," Pfenninger says. "I'm 42 years old. Every airline is furloughing pilots. I don't have the time to go back to school and get retrained. I want to get on with my life."

If the concessions pacts are approved, pilots would take a 26% annual pay cut. For Pfenninger — a Boeing 737 first officer — his annual salary would go from about $129,000 to $95,000 a year if he works full time.

Pfenninger thought he had paid his dues. He worked his way through flight school and flew for commuter airlines — Wings Airways, a commuter near Philadelphia, and Suburban Airlines, a US Airways commuter, and American Eagle, an American Airlines commuter — before getting hired by US Airways at the onset of the Gulf War and recession in 1991. He lasted 10 months before receiving a pink slip.

He worked odd jobs for nearly eight years — tending bar, driving big rigs, selling insurance, landscaping — while waiting for the call to come back. While other pilots looked for jobs with cargo carriers or pursued new careers, Pfenninger stayed uncommitted and continued to hope for a recall. Personal reasons had a lot to do with it.

He got his first job as a ticket agent at US Airways and his father started flying 42 years ago for Allegheny Airlines, one of the predecessor airlines of today's US Airways. His father retired from US Airways in 1996.

Nationwide, there are now more pilots on furlough than there are available jobs — 7,500 vs. 6,000 expected hires this year, says Kit Darby, whose firm Air Inc. helps pilots find work.

"It's not as bad as some people think," says Darby, "but it's certainly nothing like before 9/11."

US Airways is trying to save some jobs, but even that effort is controversial. The airline is forming a regional carrier — Pittsburgh-based MidAtlantic Airways — to fly small jets the company wants to buy to replace turbo-props and help it compete. The pilot jobs are to go to US Airways' pilots on furlough. But it's still months away from starting operations and pilots at some of US Airways' existing regional carriers resent the idea that better-paid, furloughed pilots will be given jobs that they think are rightfully theirs.

"All we want to do is continue to do our jobs for US Airways, which is building markets," says Richard O'Leary, spokesman for the pilots union of a US Airways Express carrier. "We want US Airways to recover as soon as possible."

A group of US Airways Express pilots on Tuesday picketed the Air Line Pilots Association's headquarters to protest what they view as unfair treatment by their union. They say they want ALPA to represent regional and big-jet pilots equally.

Pfenninger says if he needs to, he'll try to get a job at MidAtlantic or one of the regional US Airways Express carriers. But getting in could take a long time depending on many factors, such as how quickly US Airways can recover and how fast it can get small jets.

"This company is a little bit more than an employer to me," he says. "It really provided my entire family with a great life. My first choice is to stay with US Airways, but I don't think that's going to happen."
 

checkessential

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I'm not sure that spending 8 years doing odd jobs was a productive way of securing his own future. And of course NOW is not a good time to go back to school. Well folks, we all know what an unpredictable industry this can be, so lets not feel too sorry for ourselves, or others who couldn't learn a lesson. Or how to do something beside drive trucks...
 

reepicheep

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His other big mistake was thinking that things were perfect "right up until Sept. 11". In reality, once the UAL merger started to fall apart in late 2000 US Airways' fate was sealed; 9/11 just accellerated matters.
 

BeerNear

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Don't know what to think!!!

OK, nice article.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

That's all I got to say about that.

BN
 

pilotyip

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95K

95 K for an F/O's job ain't exactly poverty
 

FurloughedAgain

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I dont think his "salary" is on the top of his list of priorities.

More is riding on their decisions than paychecks. For people like pilot Rich Pfenninger, a first officer who's 15th from the bottom of the pilot seniority list, careers are on the line, too.

US Airways' downsizing plans mean some people will lose jobs no matter how the votes go. Pfenninger is one of them.
 

reepicheep

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Re: 95K

pilotyip said:
95 K for an F/O's job ain't exactly poverty

No; then again 40k to fly a Dash-8 probably sounds pretty good to half the population too. The point is we didn't go through what it takes to get here so we can be making 95k 13 years after getting hired at a "major".
 
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