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American Airlines disputes claims made by protesting pilots at LAX

September 21, 2012 |  3:53 pm

More than 200 American Airline pilots marched on a picket line at O'Hare International Airport Thursday. Pilots at LAX held a similar protest Friday.

Responding to its pilots who picketed at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, American Airlines reiterated that the carrier’s flight delays and cancellations are due to a surge in pilots taking sick time and making an unusually high number of requests for minor repairs -- some at the time of departure.

 “We are confident in the causes of the recent operational challenges of flight cancellations and delays,” said Bruce Hicks, an airline spokesman. “Prior to the recent issues, American had been running a good operation, with on-time performance and reliability measures at their best levels in many years.”

Hicks disputed the pilots’ assertions that American’s fleet is aging and there was a lack of spare parts. He said the claim that American’s heavy maintenance facility had closed in Tulsa, Okla., was not true.

He added that the number of pilots calling in sick has risen more than 20% over the past year and has been elevated for months, limiting the availability of reserve pilots, which can lead to flight cancellations.

Scores of American pilots picketed for a couple hours Friday outside the airline’s LAX terminal to protest accusations by their employer that they were deliberately causing service disruptions without justification.

“The pilots are tired of being falsely accused of taking an improper legal action,” said Capt. Dan Hall, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Assn., which represents American pilots. “There is no organized or sanctioned effort. These are legitimate maintenance-related issues.”

Hall, who has been with American 28 years, blamed the problems on a reduction in maintenance brought on by the financial difficulties of the airline, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

During the past week, American -- the largest carrier at LAX -- has experienced dozens of delays at the airport and has had to cancel roughly one in four flights per day, according to Flightaware, an aviation website that tracks commercial flights.

“We apologize to all of our customers for the inconvenience this has caused,” Hicks said. “We understand how irritating and unfortunate this is in interrupting or delaying their travel plans.  We appreciate their patience and hope for their understanding.”


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Photo: More than 200 American Airlines pilots marched on a picket line at O'Hare International Airport on Thursday. Pilots at LAX held a similar protest Friday. Credit: M. Spencer Green / Associated Press