The pilot's union at American Airlines Thursday said company managers are eroding safety margins by manipulating rules to "keep an operation under duress from coming apart at the seams."
In an unusually strongly-worded letter to fellow pilots, the president of the Allied Pilots Association, Capt. Dan Carey, said the airline is ordering increased airspeeds "nearing aircraft limitations" and faster taxi times "from what would normally be considered rational."
"These last-minute manipulations are used to make a flight appear legal when in reality it’s not or is, at best, on the ragged edge," Carey wrote. "During this critical summer travel period and integration phase, I am alarmed by the incidences of pilot pushing that are occurring at American Airlines.”
The airline released the following statement a few hours after the union president's letter was made public:
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"Safety and regulatory compliance are always the first and foremost consideration in every decision and in every facet of our company -- and we are fortunate that our pilots are the best in the business. Our integration and associated changes are complex and we remain committed to working together with all employee groups to ensure that this ongoing process is thoughtful, smooth and orderly."
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was aware of the pilots' letter and is in daily contact with airlines to ensure safety.
"The agency will not hesitate to act if it determines safety may have been compromised," the FAA said.
A Dallas attorney who specializes in aviation safety said the letter may simply be posturing between the union and airline and should not alarm passengers.
"At the end of the day, the real answer is the airline can't ask any of its captains or pilots to do anything illegal," said attorney William Angelley. "So regardless of what may be put out in the letter, it's always the pilot in command's decision, and they're not going to do anything completely unsafe, or unsafe at all."
APA represents 15,000 pilots at American Airlines and passed a five-year contract in January 2015.
Carey took office July 1, according to the association's website.
Relations between the company and union have been heated at times -- before and after its merger with U.S. Airways.
In March, APA directors sent a letter to American CEO Doug Parker.
"Candidly, the new American Airlines product is outright embarrassing and we're tired of apologizing to our passengers," the letter said. "The pilots ... will not remain silent as we witness the rebirth of the toxic culture we fought so hard to eradicate."