Following threat of legal action by American Airlines, union tells pilots not to delay flights

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DALLAS - With American Airlines threatening legal action, the leader of the pilots' union is telling it members not to delay flights — if that's what they're doing.

Acting President Keith Wilson says the Allied Pilots Association has nothing to do with what American alleges is a work slowdown, causing many flights to be delayed or cancelled.

If, as the company charges, pilots are dawdling by filing frivolous maintenance write-ups and flying circuitous routes, "that activity must cease immediately," Wilson said in a memo to members. He said the union had responded quickly this month when rumours surfaced of pilots calling in sick to protest lack of a labour deal with American.

On Friday, the union cited "serious maintenance-related issues" that pilots have reported in the last several days, including a hydraulic leak from the main landing gear, overheating warnings and fuel seeping on to runways.

A spokesman for American, Bruce Hicks, said such reports were not unusual and didn't explain the high number of maintenance write-ups that have caused the recent spike in delays and cancelled flights.

Hicks called the union's claims "an outrageous and disappointing attempt to divert attention from the real issues of the operational disruption caused by some pilots' illegal job action."

The union also seized on an email from a Federal Aviation Administration official who advised a pilot to tell the FAA if he felt pressured to compromise safety, and adding that American was under special scrutiny. American noted that the FAA official said in the same email, "This surveillance is focused on frivolous maintenance discrepancy reports" and other actions of pilots.

FAA officials tried to avoid taking sides in the dispute. They said the agency always increases monitoring of airlines that fly under bankruptcy protection to make sure financial problems don't compromise safety. They said that nothing in their monitoring of American has changed since the airline and parent AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in November.

The memo from Wilson, the union leader, came a day after American threatened to haul the pilots' union into court if disruptions continued. American Airlines senior vice-president Denise Lynn said that some pilots were conducting "an unlawful, concerted effort to damage the company" by driving away customers.

On Thursday, American cancelled 100 flights, or 5.4 per cent of its schedule, and only 49.9 per cent arrived on time, according to Regional carrier SkyWest Airlines was second in cancellations at 42, or 2.2 per cent of its flights.

By late Friday afternoon, American had scrubbed 39 flights, or 2 per cent of its schedule — an improvement over Thursday, but still more cancellations than United, Delta, Southwest and US Airways combined. About 62 per cent of American's flights had arrived on time, compared with 81 per cent to 93 per cent at the other biggest airlines.

Organizations: American Airlines, Federal Aviation Administration, Allied Pilots Association AMR Corp. US Airways

Geographic location: DALLAS

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