Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News
In a letter to employees, American Airlines CEO Tom Horton acknowledged the company's recent problems with delays and cancellations. He also said that much of the work to restructure the airline is complete and said he is optimistic the company can reach an agreement with its pilots.
American Airlines and its pilots union are back at the bargaining table for the first time since a bankruptcy judge threw out the pilots’ old contract.
Negotiators resumed talks at the company conference center near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 1 p.m. Wednesday.
American spokesman Bruce Hicks said the company is delaying, for the month of October, pilot pay cuts already allowed by the court.
"It's a sign of good faith," Hicks said. "We want an agreement. We're trying to create the best environment to be able to reach an agreement that will reach everybody’s needs."
The Allied Pilots Association agreed to the talks after the two sides accused the other of causing a recent rash of flight delays.
The company accused pilots of making unnecessary maintenance requests. The union blamed the company's old planes.
Now both sides say they are anxious to put aside differences and reach a deal, but APA spokesman Tom Horton said pilots still expect more than the company has offered before.
"We understand what the competitive playing field is out there, but they have to recognize that our pilots deserve an industry standard contract," he said.
The pilots are the only American Airlines labor group yet to accept a bankruptcy reorganization labor contract.
Horton said the APA completed a strike vote Wednesday but the results will not be release while negotiations are underway.
"The corporation has some deadlines if it wants to emerge from bankruptcy and if they want a pilot contract in place, they're going to have to bargain in good faith here relatively quickly," he said.
Bankruptcy Attorney Mark Ralston said federal labor laws designed to protect the US transportation system require the two sides to conduct far more talks, even if union members did vote to authorize a strike.
"It requires the parties to go through a cooling off period before there can be an actual strike. So although the vote would be necessary for the pilots to strike in the future, it's not eminent," he said.
Ralston said bankruptcy laws could also restrict the union’s ability to legally conduct a work stoppage.
At the same time the company is likely receiving pressure from creditors to settle with the pilots.
"What's going on is certainly cutting into American’s bottom line. The creditors are going to want it resolved because it’s costing them value," Ralston said.
Hicks said the company does prefer to emerge from bankruptcy with a pilot contract in place.
"You can't put a time frame on it. All you can say is, we began, we're working earnestly at the table, both sides are going to work very hard to reach an agreement as soon as we can," Hicks said.