The union representing American Airlines pilots has raised concerns about new cockpit procedures the airline implemented Tuesday, saying pilots had not been given adequate time or training to learn them.
While pilots would normally receive formal in-person or online training on procedural updates of this kind, Allied Pilots Association spokesperson Captain Dennis Tajer told USA TODAY in an interview that they only received a training bulletin (or handout), along with updates to the operating manual – which he estimated comprised 100 pages of reading between them – and a short video with a general overview of the changes that he says was not specific to the aircraft American pilots fly.
The updates are designed to streamline pilot operations across the airline’s fleet, according to Tajer.
“American Airlines Flight Operations management is attempting to circumvent robust safety-related pilot training by unilaterally imposing operational changes via bulletin,” leaders from the APA, which represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots, said in a post on its website Monday. “While APA does not oppose fleet harmonization, we are steadfast in our commitment that pilots must be properly trained BEFORE operating with passengers.”
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The post went on: “This attempt to train by bulletin, while ignoring serious safety concerns and well-established best practices, runs the risk of dramatically eroding margins of safety.”
“Our commitment to safety is unwavering, which is why we regularly update our Aircraft Operating Manuals to ensure they represent the latest and safest information for our pilots,” an American Airlines spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “These changes represent industry best practice and ensure improved crew coordination and consistency across fleet types so that our pilots can easily transition across different aircraft if they choose.”
The spokesperson said the changes have been in the works since 2021 and have been done in collaboration with APA’s training committee, adding that the “approach to familiarizing” pilots had been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Tajer said there had not been any collaboration with APA on the particular changes implemented Tuesday.
While Tajer said self-study is a normal part of how pilots train, “A reading assignment is not proper flight training.” He added that pilots received the materials in early December, giving them a month to review them, which is “1/12” of the time they would normally have to get familiar and train on similar updates.
He said the union asked for a delay in implementing the changes, which management refused. “We want this to work,” he said. “We understand what they’re trying to do, but like anything on the flight deck, you’ve got to get trained.” The union also contacted the FAA asking them to intervene, Tajer said, but the agency declined.
“The FAA requires airlines to have robust safety management systems that enable employees to report safety concerns,” the FAA told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. “The agency reviews those employee reports daily to ensure the safety of an airline’s operations.”
The agency also said it reviews and approves all training materials. But it did not comment on the APA’s request to intervene in the matter.
What are the new American Airlines protocols?
The new protocols impact a range of cockpit procedures, including “how pilots communicate, coordinate, and execute flight safety duties at some of the most high-threat times of flight,” according to the APA. Those are scenarios such as low-visibility approaches, rejected takeoffs – during which an airplane takeoff is terminated – and others.
Tajer said pilots received a letter from management on Jan. 1 – which he shared with USA TODAY – advising pilots that “during this learning period, the changes are small enough that mixing the new with our current callouts and procedures would not bring undue risk,” the letter read.
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“On the flight deck, mixing procedures – ones that are no longer valid with ones that are – is reckless,” he said, adding that the guidance made his “jaw drop.”