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American Airlines says if pilots don't end actions that are disrupting flights, it will take their union to court.
A senior American Airlines executive told union leaders that some pilots were conducting "an unlawful, concerted effort to damage the company" by filing more maintenance complaints, flying circuitous routes and other tactics, all leading to a surge in late and canceled flights.
Denise Lynn, the company's senior vice president of people, said the pilots' actions are alienating passengers and threatening the company's financial prospects, just as American parent AMR Corp. is trying to turn itself around after a decade of huge losses.
"If we do not see an immediate, measurable improvement in our operations, we will have no choice but to seek appropriate injunctive relief" in court, Lynn said.
The union, which is angry over the company's decision to use bankruptcy protection to impose new pay and work rules on pilots, said Thursday that there is no sickout or slowdown causing American's spike in canceled and delayed flights.
Allied Pilots Association spokesman Tom Hoban blamed the flight problems on a shortage of pilots and old planes that need frequent maintenance. He said the threat of legal action could further damage frayed relations between labor and management just as the two sides were prepared to resume contract negotiations.
"Within 24 hours of being asked to return to the bargaining table they essentially take a baseball bat to the side of our heads and threaten legal action," Hoban said. "It's a sucker punch."
American and its pilots have had a rocky relationship for years, but things came to a head this summer. After pilots rejected a contract proposal designed to save American more than $300 million per year, American won permission from a federal bankruptcy court to impose new pay, benefit and work rules on pilots this month. The airline has about 7,500 active pilots.
Since early September, American's cancelations and delays have far outstripped other U.S. airlines. On Thursday, American had canceled 99 flights or 5 percent of its schedule by late afternoon. That's about six times the rate of cancelations the airline had last September.
American's on-time record, which fell below 50 percent some days last week, improved to 65 percent Thursday afternoon, but that was still far worse than rivals United, which stood at 87 percent, and Delta, Southwest and US Airways, which were all above 90 percent, according to FlightStats.com.
Statistics provided by American indicate that the percentage of pilots calling in sick has increased at least 20 percent every month when compared with the same month last year. Delays caused by pilots asking for precautionary maintenance checks have doubled in September, according to airline figures.
American sued the pilots' union and won a $45 million judgment after a sickout led to thousands of canceled flights in 1999. Last September, a federal judge ordered US Airways pilots to end a work slowdown, and another judge ruled in 2008 that United Airlines pilots were conducting an illegal sickout and ordered them to stop.
Also on Thursday, AMR said in a regulatory filing that it lost $82 million in August but would have earned $55 million if not for bankruptcy-restructuring costs and special items, which it did not describe. It ended August with $5.15 billion in cash and short-term investments including restricted amounts, up from $4.84 billion on July 31.
American and AMR filed for bankruptcy protection in November and are trying to cut annual spending on labor by $1 billion. Other than pilots, American's other union groups approved cost-cutting contracts.
Follow David Koenig at http://www.twitter.com/airlinewriter