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Flight Safety Information

TopFlight Safety Information


March 25, 2020 - No. 061


In This Issue


Incident: Fedex MD11 near Great Falls on Mar 15th 2020, battery discharge alert

Incident: Canadian North DH8A near Gjoa Haven on Mar 18th 2020, smoke in cockpit

EVAS - Cockpit Smoke Protection

Many Airline Flights Nearly Empty as Virus Undercuts Travel

The GAO told the government in 2015 to develop a plan to protect the aviation system against Pandemic

Airlines promise no layoffs through August in exchange for payroll grants

Boeing to Restart Production of 737 MAX Aircraft in May After Four Months of Halt

Compulsory no-pay leave for SIA pilots starts April amid coronavirus hit

Aeroméxico pilots will take 50% pay cut in support of airline

Air Canada to furlough up to 600 pilots as coronavirus slashes flights -union letter


The.USC Aviation Safety & Security Program..Has Moved Online!

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Incident: Fedex MD11 near Great Falls on Mar 15th 2020, battery discharge alert

Fedex Federal Express McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighter, registration N576FE performing flight FX-5986 from Anchorage,AK to Memphis,TN (USA) with 2 crew, was enroute at FL350 over Canada when the crew received a "Level 1 - battery discharge alert" and worked the related checklists to troubleshoot the problem. About 220nm northeast of Great Falls,MT (USA) the crew declared emergency and decided to divert to Great Falls, where the aircraft landed safely on runway 21 about 40 minutes after leaving FL350.

The Canadian TSB reported maintenance found a defective shunt in the battery charging circuits.

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Incident: Canadian North DH8A near Gjoa Haven on Mar 18th 2020, smoke in cockpit

Canadian North de Havilland Dash 8-100, registration C-GRGO performing flight 5T-656 from Yellowknife,NT to Kugaaruk,NU (Canada) with 28 people on board, was descending through 10,000 feet towards Kugaaruk when smoke appeared in the cockpit. The crew donned their oxygen masks, worked the related checklist, which caused the smoke to dissipate. The crew declared emergency and diverted to Gjoa Haven,NU (Canada) requesting emergency services to meet the aircraft and landed safely without further incident. The passengers deplaned safely.

The Canadian TSB reported there was no evidence of a fire, the operator's maintenance is investigating.

The aircraft returned to service on Mar 21st 2020.

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Many Airline Flights Nearly Empty as Virus Undercuts Travel

Airline service in the United States is teetering on the brink of collapse, with near-empty planes and coronavirus outbreaks that have left some air traffic control towers empty.

Even with sharply reduced schedules, airlines are consolidating some of the remaining flights because passengers aren't showing up.

An official of one major U.S. airline, who asked that they and their airline not be identified, ticked off more than a dozen flights that departed on Tuesday morning with fewer than 10 passengers on board. In a few cases, pilots and flight attendants outnumbered passengers.

The official said the average flight was just over 20% full and that figure is expected to drop into the teens by the weekend.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 331,000 people at airport checkpoints on Monday, an 86% decline from the corresponding Monday a year ago, more than 2.4 million people poured through checkpoints.

Major airlines are drafting plans in case they must shut down domestic flights because of a lack of air traffic controllers or airport screeners.

"We have plans in place in case that happens," the airline official said. "It's a dire situation."

An official at another major carrier called it "prudent contingency planning" given that health experts advise against gathering of more than 10 people.

"We do not have plans to voluntarily ground, (but) we're wary of government actions ... that could force us to ground the airline," such as the Federal Aviation Administration closing control towers or airspace or governors ordering that airports be shut down, said the person, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss planning that has not been made public.

The FAA, which provides air traffic control across the country, declined to comment on whether the agency was considering ordering a shutdown. "We don't comment on speculation," said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. "The FAA is focused on the health and safety of its workforce while continuing to provide a safe air transportation system."

Airport towers at Chicago's Midway International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas remained closed Tuesday, nearly a week after shutting down because some employees tested positive for the new coronavirus. FAA workers at eight other facilities have also tested positive.

Administration officials have repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility of halting domestic airline travel while saying no such shutdown was imminent. Trump said Monday he was not considering new travel restrictions.

"They thought we were going to have bans within the United States. We didn't do that," he said at a White House briefing. "We are not going to have that. Hopefully that will take care of itself."

The airlines and their labor unions are lobbying Washington for relief. A proposal by Senate Republicans would provide $50 billion in loan help and another $8 billion for cargo carriers, but the airlines say they need cash grants to avoid layoffs in an industry that employs about 750,000 people.

House Democrats propose $40 billion in grants to airlines and contractors to preserve pay and benefits for workers. Democrats would add provisions including telling airlines to cut carbon emissions in half by 2050 and to include labor union representatives on their boards. Prominent House Republicans immediately trashed the proposal.

Reports that Congress and the Trump administration were bridging their differences and nearing a deal on a massive stimulus bill sent airline stocks and the broader market soaring on Tuesday. American Airlines gained 36%, United Airlines rose 26% and Delta gained 21%. All three remain down more than 50% for the year, however.

U.S. airlines have already cut most of their international flights and have announced plans to reduce service within the U.S. by up to 40% in April. Those drastic planned cutbacks in service now seem hopelessly optimistic, given the few people who continue to fly.

About 8,500 U.S. flights were canceled Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware. In some cases, airlines consolidated flights to avoid flying empty planes.

United Airlines canceled 51% of its flights, American dropped 46% of its schedule, and Delta scrapped 38% by late afternoon, according to FlightAware. Southwest canceled 15%.

Fewer flights have left fewer people for TSA officers to screen. As recently as March 8, TSA screened more than 2 million travelers, but the numbers have dropped nearly every day since then. There are also fewer screeners.

The TSA said 24 screeners and six other employees at 14 U.S. airports have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the past two weeks. The most recent confirmed cases were at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Indianapolis International Airport and McCarran in Las Vegas.

Airlines concerned about the federal government are now facing travel restrictions imposed by one state. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order requiring anyone arriving on a flight from New York City or New Jersey to quarantine themselves for two weeks. Southwest said the order had not caused any additional flight cancellations. American said it was notifying passengers about the Florida edict.

The new virus and a global recession will do more financial damage to airlines than previously estimated, according to an industry trade group.

The International Air Transport Association said Tuesday that it now estimates that passenger revenue worldwide could fall as much as $252 billion, or 44%, compared with last year because of the decline in travel. That is based on strict travel restrictions lasting up to three months, followed by a slow economic recovery.

Less than three weeks ago, the group estimated the virus could reduce airline revenue by up to $113 billion compared with 2019, before a new round of travel restrictions that have stopped most international air travel.

Delta Air Lines is the world's biggest and most profitable airline. On Tuesday, Standard & Poor's cut Delta's credit rating from investment grade to speculative, or junk, status.

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The GAO told the government in 2015 to develop a plan to protect the aviation system against an outbreak. It never happened.

Even as the Ebola outbreak still raged in West Africa, congressional watchdogs began investigating how well-prepared U.S. airports and airlines were to deal with a rapidly spreading disease.

They found a patchwork of local plans and federal agencies pointing fingers at one another over who was responsible for knitting them all together. The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the country needed one national plan - something that was required under U.N. aviation standards.

The Transportation Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed that such a plan was a good idea, but each said the other ought to be in charge of developing it.

Five years later, as the novel coronavirus takes hold in the United States, those disputes have been left largely unresolved and opportunities to be better prepared for an outbreak were missed.

The airline and travel industries, now brought to their knees by the outbreak and seeking a $50 billion government bailout, opposed efforts by the CDC to set new rules for tracing infected passengers, calling them "burdensome."

And as the coronavirus has swept through the aviation system, front-line workers like those who clean airplanes, Transportation Security Administration officers and customs agents say they are exposed to danger, lacking clear guidance and training from their bosses. Travelers, meanwhile, have reported inconsistencies in the way they are being screened for illness when they come into the country.

Sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked in the newsletter are free to access.

In a 2015 report on its findings, the GAO recommended that the Transportation Department step up and craft the plan, but it has resisted. Even as the coronavirus outbreak began, the Transportation Department said that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security needed to step in, said Heather Krause, a GAO official.

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said he requested the GAO review because there seemed to be no clear policy on how to contain Ebola, and he wanted to make sure the nation would be better prepared for the next outbreak.

In an interview, Larsen said that the aviation system's response hadn't been a disaster but that it could still have been better prepared.

That was before the rollout of travel restrictions on European countries earlier this month led to overwhelming crowds and hours-long waits at some airports as Americans rushed home. Larsen posted a tweet revising his view.

"Last week I told a reporter that the US govt preparation efforts in airports for COVID-19 wasn't a disaster but we could do better. I now want to amend that response: it's a disaster," he tweeted.

A House bill to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, unveiled this week, includes a provision that would require the Transportation Department to take the lead on developing a plan in the future.

'Did we not learn anything ...?'

In a response to the GAO report, the Transportation Department said any such plan should be part of a "broader national communicable disease planning effort that is not limited to the aviation sector."

It reiterated that position in a response this month to questions from The Washington Post about the absence of a national aviation plan for dealing with communicable diseases.

In outlining the actions it has taken as the coronavirus outbreak has spread, the Transportation Department focused on the Federal Aviation Administration's role as a liaison between industry and various government agencies.

"When there are concerns relating to communicable disease, FAA, as appropriate, hosts and coordinates calls between airlines, aviation associations, HHS/CDC, [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration], and DHS that include preparedness measures," the department said in a statement.

The lack of a plan has drawn scrutiny from Democrats on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.

"Did we not learn anything about processes and procedures from those previous diseases?" Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) asked officials at a recent hearing.

Abrupt new coronavirus checks cause agonizing delays at U.S. airports

The inability to pull together a national plan follows a common pattern, experts say. In the months and years after an outbreak or tragedy, recommendations flow. Gaps are identified and actions are recommended. But officials don't always follow through.

Vicki Bier, director of the Center for Human Performance and Risk Analysis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said such scenarios are common, not just in government, but in virtually all industries and organizations.

"Reacting in the short term and then forgetting in the long term to close the loop and act on their plan is a very widespread problem," said Bier, who has a background in pandemic preparedness.

Solving it can be difficult.

Despite the lack of a unified plan, former government officials say the aviation system's defenses have been hardened in recent years.

FAA says 11 air traffic facilities affected by coronavirus outbreak

Peter Houck, a former CDC quarantine officer, said the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 spurred international aviation authorities to get better prepared for new diseases, work that he said paid off when Ebola flared up in West Africa in 2014.

More preparations were undertaken in recent years, too.

On the final day of the Obama presidency, the CDC finalized long-stalled rules on how to track airline passengers who might have been exposed to a sick person. The GAO had urged the government to be better prepared since 2004.

But officials at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the rules that were ultimately proposed weren't strict enough and urged the CDC to require airlines to collect more information on passengers.

"Rather than relying on information 'available and already maintained by the airline,' the regulations should mandate that airlines collect and maintain additional passenger data to facilitate contact tracing," the department wrote in a formal submission to the CDC in October 2016. "For example, the contact information collected, particularly in the case of domestic flights, is not sufficient for contact tracing."

But the travel industry balked at the proposed rules, saying they would be expensive and burdensome to follow. A host of lobbying groups, including Airlines for America, wrote in their submission to the CDC that the rules would be "cost prohibitive and operationally unrealistic," and to the extent the rules applied to domestic flights, the costs would be "vastly higher."

"Given these considerations, we suggest that the [proposal] be withdrawn," the groups wrote.

The CDC pressed ahead, but it discovered when the coronavirus outbreak began that it was having difficulty tracking passengers even under the rules established in 2017. In February, it issued emergency rules along the lines of those proposed by the New York officials, arguing that airlines were best positioned to collect the necessary information.

Airlines again pushed back, saying it could take a year or longer to develop a system for reliably collecting the information and that government agencies, including the DHS and the State Department, were better positioned to provide the information sought by federal health officials.

Katherine Estep, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the industry's main trade group, did not respond to questions about whether airlines should have been more willing to help, saying only that the industry was doing what it could to pitch in.

"Since the first reports of coronavirus, we have been working closely with multiple federal agencies to help contain and prevent the spread of the virus," Estep said. "We fully support expedited contact tracing and have put forward pragmatic solutions to assist in achieving the U.S. government's objective of obtaining complete, accurate and verifiable passenger data."

Major airlines, U.S. officials clash over passenger tracking related to coronavirus cases

But airlines wanted no part of sharing passenger information. Under pressure to find a solution, Airlines for America said it would pay to develop a website and app that would allow travelers to submit their own information - including two phone numbers, an email and an address while in the United States - directly to the CDC. Nicholas E. Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America, said the app could be up and running within two weeks, and the website within four.

More than two weeks after airlines first floated the idea, no decision has been made on whether such a system will be used.

In the interim, federal officials have been collecting passenger contact data on paper forms, which are then input into computers by hand and sent to the CDC. At a Senate hearing earlier this month on the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on aviation, Joel Szabat, acting undersecretary for policy at the Transportation Department, said that the system worked, largely because information was only being collected from fewer than 1,000 incoming passengers a day, but that it would not be scalable should the number of passengers grow.

However, with new screening requirements now in place for travelers returning from 28 countries in Europe, passenger volumes may increase.

'A Petri dish waiting to happen'

Weaknesses identified in the 2015 GAO report have also continued to persist, records show. GAO investigators found that between 2012 and 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined several companies that hold service contracts with airlines or airports for not having sufficient procedures to protect their employees from blood-borne pathogens. The violations involved companies that did not "provide employees with appropriate pathogen exposure control planning, training, vaccinations, and personal protective equipment."

The companies took steps to solve the problems, and people interviewed by the GAO investigators said the industry had tightened up in the wake of Ebola.

But in late 2019, OSHA's records show that it issued a fresh fine against Eulen, a major contractor, for violating the same rules.

The company did not address questions about the violation, but it shared a statement from the chief executive of its American operation, Xavi Rabell, that said: "Because the health and well-being of our employees comes first, the company has made sure all employees have access to prevention information."

Tim Maddox, a union organizer and longtime airport employee in Los Angeles, said some cleaning crews there feel so unprepared that the union was stepping in to provide training.

"Our workers were reporting that they were told to clean international flights, including some coming in from China, and they hadn't had any training and equipment; they were just told to clean the plane," Maddox said.

Leaders of the unions representing TSA and Customs and Border Protection officers say their officers were similarly unprepared, even though they deal with the public and their luggage up close. At least two dozen TSA officers have tested positive for the virus.

"The checkpoints are a Petri dish waiting to happen in a bad way," said a TSA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

FAA sends some workers home as coronavirus spreads among federal workers at airports

The agency says it has increased cleaning at checkpoints and is allowing travelers to request that officers put on a new pair of gloves when screening them.

Bier said solving the planning problem is more complex than just naming a point person because agencies have different priorities they think are not well understood by those outside their operations.

"As a society, we have these very complex interacting systems that have outgrown our ability to manage them," she added. "And so we compartmentalize - but there are some things that don't get done well that way. And unfortunately there isn't a good solution to that."

Keeping airports and the aviation system safe relies on a stew of government agencies scattered across the Transportation Department, Labor Department, HHS and DHS. The GAO investigators uncovered examples of bickering between them dating back years, finding that in 2010, the Transportation Department asked the CDC to help more airports develop disease response plans.

"The request did not specify which airports to extend CDC's outreach, in part because, at that time, CDC was resistant to any expansion," according to the GAO report.

Good leadership is critical, said Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

"You cannot deal with this at the level of just saying let each agency operate," he said. "You need to have some way to bring them together and to indicate that this is a problem, which cannot be solved by one agency alone. That is something that leadership is going to have to suggest - 'This is the way to do it' - and we don't have that right now."

A guide for airports published last year by the Transportation Research Board, an arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, underscores why planning is important. Airports need to know which ambulance services and hospitals stand ready to receive infectious patients and be ready for a "high percentage of employee absences, even among essential employees."

In the case of the novel coronavirus, the emphasis quickly shifted from tracking sick passengers to ensuring airports can stay open as TSA officers and air traffic control workers fall ill, as well as guaranteeing the financial health of the airlines.

Stephanie Murphy, a former emergency management official at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said that airports now are generally in a good position to handle sick passengers but that planning for how to keep operations going with large numbers of absences has lagged at some smaller airports.

Murphy, now a consultant, has been working during the coronavirus outbreak to help airports ensure they can stay open.

"The beautiful piece and part is that we are having these conversations," she said. "That's a positive thing."

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Airlines promise no layoffs through August in exchange for payroll grants

The commercial airline industry is continuing its fight for financial aid from the U.S. government.

Over the weekend, Airlines for America, which represents the major U.S. carriers, sent a letter to top lawmakers pleading for government assistance in the form of payroll protection grants.

A4A asked for $29 billion in grants, and said if the industry received these grants, carriers would not furlough or reduce workforce counts through Aug. 31. If loans or loan guarantees were enacted, executive compensation would be limited, and stock buybacks and dividends would be suspended over the life of the loan, A4A added.

"The breadth and immediacy of the need to act cannot be overstated," said the letter signed by several airline CEOs. "It is urgent and unprecedented."

Executives of two major airlines based in North Texas, American Airlines Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co., were among those to sign the letter to lawmakers. The two carriers employ more than 43,000 North Texans.

The government is still working on passing an economic stimulus package that would include aid for the airline industry. Discrepancies between stimulus packages from the Senate and the House have differing impacts to airlines. Both proposals offer $58 billion in financial aid to airlines.

The Senate version of aid is in the form of loans and places restrictions on share repurchases and keeping employment levels as of March 13 consistent "to the extent practicable" through the life of the loan, according to a draft of the bill.

The House's proposal would be in the form of $37 billion for payroll grants and loans of $21 billion, according to Business Insider, with similar restrictions put in place on share buybacks as well as dividends for the life of the loan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to put forth the plan Monday in response to Senate plan, Business Insider said.

The industry's lobbying effort has been backed not only by the companies, but employee unions, too. Some unions have been imploring employees to contact local representatives.

"Our company and our pilots will be a critical and necessary part of the economic recovery when we overcome the COVID-19 crises," said Captain Jason Goldberg, spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, a group that represents nearly 14,000 American pilots. "We strongly urge our elected officials to pass fair and timely bipartisan legislation."

With capacity slashed and load factors plummeting, carriers have said they are burning through cash.

On Friday, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the company is running through $50 million in cash daily, while United Airlines said the company will start laying off employees if a financial aid package isn't reached by the end of the month.

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Boeing to Restart Production of 737 MAX Aircraft in May After Four Months of Halt

Boeing ceased production of the jet in January as it struggled to win regulatory approvals and accrued a backlog of 400 undelivered jets.

Boeing Co (BA.N) plans to restart 737 MAX production by May, ending a months-long halt triggered by a safety ban on its best-selling jet after fatal crashes, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Boeing's planning hinges on the scale of disruptions from the fast-spreading coronavirus, and U.S. regulators clearing the 737 MAX to return to service, a milestone Boeing still expects to reach in mid-2020.

One industry source said Boeing has asked some suppliers to be ready to ship 737 parts in April. Another person said production was planned to restart in May. A third person said coronavirus is throwing a wrench in Boeing's plans - they had initially hoped for April, but that fell to May.

"It'll be a very slow, methodical, systematic approach to warming the line-up, and getting crews back in place," Boeing Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith told Reuters on Tuesday when asked about the May restart goal.

"Priority number 1 is getting customers' fleets back up," Smith said, adding that a production ramp-up will be paired with clearing the MAX backlog. "We don't want to add to inventory."

Boeing ceased production of the jet in January as it struggled to win regulatory approvals and accrued a backlog of 400 undelivered jets.

The coronavirus pandemic has shattered global travel demand, upended lives for millions and wiped billions off Boeing's market value, compounding a year-old crisis over the grounding of the 737 MAX after crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed 346 people.

Boeing said on Monday that it would halt production in its Washington state facilities, beginning on Wednesday, to reduce coronavirus risks.

Boeing has reported dozens of cases across its Seattle-area facilities, many of which were at its Everett hub north of Seattle. One worker died from the coronavirus, according to a friend's Facebook tribute on Monday.

Boeing has told suppliers to halt shipments to its Seattle-area facilities, and has frozen hiring among other cash-saving measures.

Boeing is seeking $60 billion in U.S. government aid to prop up its finances and the embattled American aerospace supply chain.

Boeing has used the production lull to curb inefficiencies, improve quality and ease the plane's re-entry to the market.

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Compulsory no-pay leave for SIA pilots starts April amid coronavirus hit

SINGAPORE Airlines' (SIA) pilots will be placed on compulsory no-pay leave (CNPL) of between four and seven days a month starting April 1 as the airline and its unions work together to save jobs in what has been described as an unprecedented crisis for global aviation.

From April 1, Captains will take seven days of CNPL per month, while First Officers and Second Officers will take five days and four days a month respectively.

"These measures together with no flying being done will result in an average of up to 55 per cent salary cuts for Captains, up to 50 per cent cuts for First Officers and up to 15 per cent cuts for Second Officers," said Captain Kenneth Lai, president of the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S). These figures represent a percentage of pilots' total monthly salary package, which includes both a basic salary and a variable component.

Pilots over the age of 62 and on re-employment contracts will be placed on a six-month-long furlough, "pending the development of the Covid-19 situation over the next few months".

This comes after Singapore's flag carrier said on Monday that it would be forced to make sweeping capacity cuts of 96 per cent until end-April. This will see it ground 138 SIA and SilkAir planes from their combined fleets of 147 aircraft. Meanwhile, its low-cost unit Scoot is suspending the vast majority of its network and grounding 47 of its 49 aircraft.

At nearly 2,400 active members, Alpa-S represents about 95 per cent of the pilot population for SIA, SilkAir and SIA Cargo.

To cushion the financial fallout from Covid-19 and save the airline group, other cost-cutting measures put in place by SIA include voluntary no-pay leave for all staff up to divisional vice-presidents. It is also working on deferring upcoming aircraft deliveries in order to defer payments and conserve cash.

Its senior management, led by chief executive Goh Choon Phong, will be taking steeper salary cuts. He will now take a bigger salary cut of 30 per cent from Apr 1, while executive vice-presidents and senior vice-presidents will take cuts of 25 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

The flag carrier has also said that it is actively taking steps to shore up its liquidity and is in talks with several financial institutions for funding.

SIA is not the only airline forced to make hard decisions in what industry players describe as an unprecedented crisis for the global aviation industry. With countries worldwide tightening their borders to fend off the pandemic, airlines worldwide have become collateral damage, slashing their network and grounding planes, prompting some carriers to warn of layoffs and furloughs.

Businesses across most sectors in the Republic are also feeling the pain, and the Singapore government is poised to announce additional support measures this Thursday to help workers, businesses and households deal with the devastating fallout from Covid-19.

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Aeroméxico pilots will take 50% pay cut in support of airline

They will also relinquish overtime, night pay and productivity bonuses

Members of the ASPA pilots union who fly for Aeroméxico announced that they will take a 50% salary cut and donate up to 65% of benefits in order to support the company during the difficult economic times caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The 1,176 Aeroméxico pilots are the largest group of professionals in Mexico to band together to support their employer during the crisis so far, despite the airline announcing last week that it was going to scale down service significantly to and from Europe.

Besides the decrease in salary, they will also create a rotational system of optional unpaid leave. If a minimum number of leave permits are not taken voluntarily, they will be randomly divided among the remaining active pilots.

They will also temporarily relinquish other contractual provisions, such as overtime and night pay, the legally mandated seventh-day bonus for working six consecutive days, productivity bonuses and training.

Benefits such as social security and health and life insurance will remain in place.

Union president Rafael Díaz Covarrubias noted the size and impact the move will have on the industry and said that the historic measure aims to safeguard the pilots' source of employment.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in an unprecedented move, the pilots of ASPA have shown that the determination with which we've negotiated salary raises is as great as [our determination] to support the companies with whom we are collectively contracted," Díaz said.

ASPA said it will remain in constant communication with the pilots and the airlines as the health crisis progresses.

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Air Canada to furlough up to 600 pilots as coronavirus slashes flights -union letter

TORONTO/MONTREAL, March 24 (Reuters) - Air Canada has reached an agreement that would allow the airline to furlough up to 600 pilots because of plummeting traffic due to the coronavirus, according to a letter from the union reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.

The country's largest carrier is slashing capacity as the coronavirus outbreak forces many governments to impose travel restrictions.

The agreement covers six months from April through the end of September, according to the letter dated Monday.

Air Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Carriers are making unprecedented cuts to flights, costs and staffing while stepping up calls for emergency aid from governments to save jobs.

Canada is working on a financial aid package for the country's struggling airlines.

Canada's privately held WestJet Airlines said on Tuesday that 6,900 employees would leave the company, with 90% departing voluntarily. The country's second-largest carrier had about 14,000 employees before the announcement.

Global passenger capacity fell by 35% last week, the worst since the start of the crisis, according to data from airline schedules firm OAG, which said deeper cuts were likely in the coming weeks.

Air Canada reached the agreement as its April schedule was reduced by 80% and the carrier has suspended its leisure service Rouge, the union letter said.

The deal "represents our best efforts to balance our responsibility to our members, alongside the requirement for the company to reduce its costs as quickly as possible in line with the schedule reduction and for its long-term viability."

Pilots on furlough continue to accrue seniority and would be later recalled in order of seniority.

Air Canada shares were up about 20% in afternoon trade, but still down more than 60% this year.

The Air Canada Pilots Association, which represents 4,400 members, said in a statement on Tuesday that the agreement would reduce pay across the group, simplify contract language to allow pilots to retire earlier and provide "for orderly redundancies" up to a maximum of 600 positions in the coming months.

"Due to the complexity of pilot training, the precise number of positions immediately affected is still unclear and we will be working with Air Canada in the coming days and weeks to better understand the situation," Captain Michael McKay, chair of the Air Canada Pilots Association, said in the statement.

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By Roger Rapoport

Flight Safety Information Senior Editor

After spending 96 percent of their free cash in recent years on stock repurchases, airline executives are pleading for an unprecedented bailout. The five biggest carriers, Delta, American, United, Southwest and Alaska, spent $44.9 billion repurchasing shares and paying stockholder dividends during the past five years. During that same time these carriers have cut 10,000 jobs.

Why has an industry that earned $113 billion in net profits during the past decade has suddenly raced to Congress with a tin cup? The quick and easy answer traces back to the 2001 post 9/11 bailout. At that time $5 billion in direct payments and $10 billion in loan guarantees were handed out by a new Air Transportation Stabilization Board (ATSB). The agency was free to distribute the money in almost any circumstance.

With millions suddenly laid off across the country and many businesses struggling, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says the airlines are "on the top of the list" for a bailout. The precedent set in 2001 has led to rising expectations.

The industry has asked for $29 billion in grants ($25 billion for passenger carriers, $4 billion for cargo companies) plus another $25 billion in unsecured loans as well as tax breaks. This ask could be "trimmed" back to $50 billion.

In 2001 Illinois Republican Peter Fitzgerald, the lone Senator voting against the $15 billion bailout said: "This assistance is too generous, it gives too much money, it goes far beyond compensating the airlines for those three days that government (grounding) edict was in effect and ... clearly we are compensating them for far more."

JP Morgan airline analyst Jamie Baker says: "We generally prefer the U.S. not interfere with airlines. After all, post 9/11 the Air Transportation Safety loans were to airlines that ultimately exited the business (Midwest, Vanguard, Reliant) suggesting that the government was more adept at picking losers than winners."

Today industry balance sheets are far better than they were in 2001 or the 2008 recession. Mergers have cut down on competition with a large number of single carrier routes, including some benefitting directly from generous cash payments under the federal government's Essential Air Services program.

In many key cities a single carrier dominates the local market, effectively eliminating competition. Many airport gates in large markets are at capacity, a semi-monopoly carriers are already trying to protect by a request for a federal waiver.

During the past year fuel costs, which are more than a quarter of airline's expenditures, have fallen 62.7 percent. As labor and other overhead drops, the airlines also benefit from the way they deal with non-refundable tickets on cancelled flights.
Under federal law passengers are entitled to a refund when their flight is cancelled and they can't be rebooked from the same city on the same route within a few hours. Instead of just issuing refunds, carriers work hard to persuade customers to accept a credit or make them go through a slow moving refund appeal process. With customer service overwhelmed, getting a refund can be slow.

This means that customers, who typically pay for their tickets with 24 hours of booking, advance a lot of cash to the airlines. Right now no one knows if the flights rebooked with credits from cancelled service will actually operate. Nothing in the current bailout bill mandates repaying customers who don't want to rebook on another flight.

These realities, combined with the fact that the carriers are picking up new freight orders during the current Covid-19 emergency, means that a bailout may not be in the airline industry's best interest. Doubling down on failed 2001 policies that appear to be working against the industry could be a mistake. It's up to the airlines to create a strategy that will persuade passengers to resume flying.

For example, until the current crisis the majority of domestic passengers (unless they were flying Southwest) couldn't simply rebook when they were feeling unwell. Not able to pay for significant cancellation or rebooking fees, some of them may have ended up flying sick. In the interest of public health it would have made a lot more sense to eliminate these onerous policies and ask sick passengers to stay home with a full fare refund.

Given the fact that many experts agree that international air travel has been a source of worldwide Covid-19 transmission, this reform should be made regardless of whether or not a bailout happens.

With airline stocks crashing it appears that spending nearly as much as the proposed baillout on stock buybacks and sky high executive compensation in recent years was risky business.

This vulnerable industry central to the nation's economic health should have spent some of these billions on increased training, more simulators for the Boeing 737 MAX, higher employee wages, better pensions, scholarships for flight schools, lower airfares, a permanent end to cancellation and rebooking penalties, no excuse refunds on request within 48 hours of flight cancellation, and a much needed rainy day fund. All of these options would have benefitted the traveling public and been good for business.

Regardless of the size of any potential bailout package, government oversight created in 2001 failed to protect America from the current crisis. The Air Transportation Stabilization Board never imagined that something far worse than the brief 9/11 grounding of American carriers could happen. It left the nation unprepared for what is happening to all of us now.

Today millions of Americans are sheltering in place which means they are discouraged from traveling for nonessential purposes. After these restrictions are lifted it's likely that many potential passengers may be reluctant to fly. Right now states like Hawaii are telling passengers they must quarantine for two weeks following arrival.

Some of the money carriers are now saving from reduced operations and lower fuel costs should be invested in rebuilding consumer confidence. One way to do this would be to work with public health officials to upgrade cabin safety. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Upgrade procedures to make sure that the deeper clean done overnight takes place after every flight. This would, of course, slow down turnarounds, but it would insure that cabin surfaces, such as tray tables, are wiped down after each plane lands. In addition every aircraft would be fully vacuumed after each flight. All passengers would certainly appreciate receiving hand sanitizers when they board. Perhaps, when production is stepped up, the most effective face masks could be provided as a free option.
  • At the current time it would be great to establish a screening procedure pre-boarding to make sure passengers are not showing symptoms potentially related to Covid-19 such as a high fever or coughing.
  • Increase passenger separation by leaving middle seats unoccupied.
  • Slow down the boarding process to make sure passengers are not lined up close to one another in the terminal or jetway.
  • Eliminate all baggage fees to reduce the passenger line up during boarding and deplaning associated with stowing bags in overhead bins.

Reassuring public confidence in air travel means the industry must persuade customers their health won't be compromised on flights. This is a much higher priority than panicking about the balance sheets of carriers well positioned to survive the current downtown. Done right the airlines will be able to take advantage of pent up demand based on consumer confidence.

Roger Rapoport is the coauthor of Angle of Attack with Captain Shem Malmquist now available in its second edition at Malmquist's new book with Rapoport, The Future of the Aviation Industry: How 737 Max and Covid-19 Exposed the Underlying Structural Problems in Aviation will be out this spring from Lexographic Press. The author can be reached at [email protected]

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved.

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TheUSC Aviation Safety & Security Program Has Moved Online!


The following upcoming courses will take place in our virtual WebEx classrooms.


Human Factors in Aviation Maintenance


Knowledge and understanding of human factors in the realm of aviation safety with a focus on the role of the maintainer.


March 30 - April 3, 2020

4.5 Days

Tuition: $2575


Incident Investigation/Analysis


For managers and supervisors who may be required to investigate, implement, or review safety findings and recommendations resulting from aviation incidents.


April 6-10, 2020

4.5 Days

Tuition: $2575


More classes will move online soon. If you want to take a specific class online, or have any questions, please contact us.


Earn Credit for FlightSafety Master Technician-Management Program



Students taking the following USC courses will earn elective credits towards FlightSafety International's Master Technician-Management Program



Earn Credit for FlightSafety Master Technician-Management Program


Students taking the following USC courses will earn two points toward completing the application for the National Business Aviation Certified Aviation Manager Exam.



For further details, please visitour websiteor use the contact information below.

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Telephone: +1 (310) 342-1345


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Contact Information


"Flight Safety Information" is a free service of:

Curt Lewis, PhD, CSP, FRAeS, FISASI


(Targeting Aviation Safety & Risk Management)

[email protected]

Fax: 682-292-0835