Cover Story: US Airways pilots raising safety issues

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - US Airways pilots say the hometown airline is ignoring serious safety concerns.  And they're calling for the ouster of the company's safety chief.

It raise eyebrows for an employee group of an airline to go so public on such a sensitive issue like airline safety and to call for the ouster of the executive overseeing safety.

It underscores a deep division that exists between pilots and Charlotte's hometown airline.

In a 3-page letter US Airways pilots sent to CEO Doug Parker, USAPA, the US Airline Pilots Association, laid out 17 specific issues to support its call that Paul Morell, the vice president of safety and regulatory compliance at US Airways be fired.

Capt. James Ray is the spokesman for USAPA, based in Charlotte.

"The pilots feel that in order to have a safe operation we need a culture that embraces a safe operation," says Ray.  "And we don't get that out of the vice president of this corporation."

Ray pointed to several examples which he said the company's safety department didn't adequately address with the pilots group.

The bullet hole found in the side of a US Airways 737 that landed in Charlotte last March.

The toxic fumes that sickened crew members on a US Airways plane - they're now suing the airline.

And the fuselage that tore open in mid-flight on a Southwest Airlines 737.. US Airways flies a similar model and said its 737s didn't need further safety inspections.

For its part US Airways responded to the union in a letter which said that US Airways handled each of the events and communicated with all its employees.  It went on to say, "In none of those issues was there any reason for your labor union to be more involved."

For the pilots group going public on something so sensitive as safety underscores the division between US Airways' 5,000 pilots and company management.

Last January the pilots union picketed outside the Charlotte Douglas terminal to call attention to the fact that more than 5 years after US Airways merged with Tempe-based America West Airlines they still don't have a unified contract.  Pilots are also seeking a raise.

But James Ray denies raising the safety issue is a negotiation tactic.

"I can tell you the pilots at US Airways rank safety number one. It's not negotiable. It has nothing to do with negotiations whatsoever. And I can't see how we could possibly gain out of this at the negotiating table," he said.

For passengers like Mark Holloway it raises questions but won't keep him from flying.

"I'm not concerned because I think that in general there's pretty good oversight as far as safety is concerned with U.S. airlines," Holloway said.  "It's unnerving.. but it wouldn't cause me not to fly US Air."

US Airways dismissed talk that safety V.P. Paul Morell should step down.  The airline says it has an "exceptional" safety record and has a number of programs for pilots to address safety concerns.

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