American Airlines told U.S. officials it’s studying the training of replacement workers in the event of a flight attendants’ strike at the world’s second-largest carrier, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
AMR Corp.’s American hasn’t taken steps to implement such a plan, Alison Duquette, an FAA spokeswoman, said today in an interview. Any shortened training sessions for replacement workers would require clearance by the agency, she said.
“The airline has told us they are considering” training new attendants, Duquette said. “If they decide to go ahead with that, we would be approving that training as part of the process.”
Alerting the FAA about a possible training need highlights the tension at American as it prepares for five days of talks with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants starting Feb. 27. The union has said it will seek a release from further bargaining, a step toward a walkout, if no contract is reached.
American is “working to coordinate an approved contingency training program, should it be necessary,” while focusing on reaching an agreement with the flight attendants, said Missy Latham, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier. Such plans are “standard in the airline industry during contract negotiations,” she said.
David Roscow, an APFA spokesman, said the union had no immediate comment. APFA represents about 16,550 active-duty attendants at American, which makes 1,900 flights a day, excluding its American Eagle commuter unit. American has 1,408 attendants on furlough, including 550 laid off in 2009.
In 1993, American trained about 1,300 managers and volunteers in an attempt to keep more planes flying during a five-day strike by attendants. The work stoppage, which occurred just before Thanksgiving and ended when then-President Bill Clinton intervened, cost the carrier at least $10 million a day.
Replacements underwent a 10-day course that focused on safety and was monitored by the FAA. Federal requirements call for 1 flight attendant for every 50 seats on an aircraft.
“It’s hard to know how successful something like that would be,” said Robert W. Mann of consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York. “It’s as effective as replacements can be with the proviso that customers usually notice the difference.”
American and the attendants’ union have been in talks since June 2008. Eleven contract articles remained open when the two sides ended a focused 11-day negotiating session on Jan. 21. After the new talks were scheduled this month, the union delayed a strike-authorization vote set for as early as Jan. 22.