In a vote that saw an overwhelming majority of Southern Air pilots vote in the affirmative, a Letter of Agreement (LOA) that will raise pilot standards at Southern has been approved. The two-week long vote began on July 25 and closed on Thursday, achieving a 94.76 percent margin to ratify the agreement, which focuses on improving working conditions, pay scales and benefits.
Pilots of Southern Air, a cargo airline flying exclusively on behalf of DHL, have been fighting for parity with their counterparts at Atlas Air since Atlas’ parent company acquired Southern Air in 2016. Since Southern was brought under the Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings family of airlines, the main complaint has been that different standards existed at both companies, despite having the same parent.
“For too long, Southern Air pilots have been operating under one of the worst contracts in the industry,” said Captain Bryan Holmberg, a veteran pilot at Southern Air and the Southern Air Executive Council Chairman at APA Teamsters Local 1224. “While the Southern agreement no longer stands alone as the worst, we are on par with our Atlas brothers and sisters, joining them in what is now the low-bar agreement in the industry. The company still has a long way to go until it will be able to end the rapid turnover and have the capability to attract the new hire pilots we need to meet growing customer demands.”
Kentucky-based Southern’s previous pilot contract, governed under a collective bargaining agreement, was formed in 2012 when the airline was under bankruptcy protection. As the airline was negotiating while bankrupt, the pilots ultimately got the shorter end of the stick. While the LOA is a positive start, some pilots still think that it has its flaws, including the nine-month wait time for the implementation of a new scheduling system.
However, the ratification of the LOA is just one step in a large climb for the pilots of both companies. Now that Southern Air’s pilots are on par with their Atlas counterparts, both will continue to fight to further improve conditions which pilots say are endangering the cargo aviation industry, propagated by the shipping demands of companies such as Amazon.
Atlas’ pilot group says that the only way for the airline to fix its own internal pilot shortage – a shortage kept alive through low pay and grueling conditions, as reported by some of the airline’s pilots, and resulting in empty training classes and pilots leaving the company at record rates – is to improve overall standards. The most recent statistics at the airline show despite hiring 311 pilots in the first half of 2018, the body of pilots only grew by 160 pilots.