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United Airlines Pilots Flag Concerns With Mesa Air Deal, Say Agreement Might Breach Contract

United Airlines Pilots Flag Concerns With Mesa Air Deal, Say Agreement Might Breach Contract

The United Airlines pilots union has flagged a potentially major stumbling block in a new agreement that the carrier has just reached with regional partner Mesa Air, saying the deal might breach a clause written into the collective bargaining agreement between United and the pilots union.

On Saturday, Phoenix-based Mesa Air said it was cutting ties with American Airlines and would be concentrating on providing regional services for United under the United Express brand.

The deal will involve Mesa transferring its CRJ-900 jets to United’s regional operation, maintaining its existing crew and maintenance bases and even adding Denver and Houston as additional CRJ crew bases.

The deal makes sense given the fact that United is losing another regional carrier Air Wisconsin to AA next year. Air Wisconsin is also a CRJ operator, but its fleet is made up of CRJ-200 series aircraft, which are smaller than the CRJ-900 with around 20 – 25 fewer seats.

That could pose a problem because the United pilots contract has provisions that are designed to limit the use of larger regional jets. The idea of the clause is to ensure that United’s own pilots don’t lose work to cheaper regional pilots flying ever larger regional jets.

On Monday, the United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) flagged its concerns: “CRJ-900 additions are subject to limitations under the scope provisions of the pilot agreement with United Airlines. United is already at their cap on these types of airplanes,” the union said.

“Anything beyond that limit must be flown by United pilots. We will carefully examine any changes to make sure they are compliant with the United pilot agreement.”

The union said its “long-held position” was that larger regional jet flying should not be outsourced. However, the union also noted that it hadn’t yet been made aware of the details of the agreement and, as a result, it’s too early to say whether there will actually be a problem.

A spokesperson for United was unable to comment on the situation but said further details would be released once a deal with Mesa had been finalized.

American Airlines dumped Mesa as a regional partner over reliability concerns, especially the carrier’s struggle to recruit enough pilots to meet AA’s scheduling needs. Mesa blamed AA’s pay rates for its recruitment woes and said the deal with United would “prove to be one of the most advantageous transactions in the history of regional aviation”.

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