Female pilots bear brunt of airline job cuts

A pilot poses for a photograph in the A320 flight simulator at the Aeroflot training center at Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 22 September 2020

Female pilots bear brunt of airline job cuts

  • Under layoff agreements between airlines and unions, junior pilots lose their jobs before senior ones, regardless of gender, race or age

MONTREAL: When Megyn Thompson landed her dream job as a commercial pilot last year, she was one of thousands being recruited globally to boost the number of women in the cockpit and meet record pilot demand.

Now an industry-wide campaign to recruit more female aviators is under threat, dealing a blow to efforts to overhaul the male-dominated airline sector as the coronavirus crisis transforms a shortage into a pilot surplus. 

In the United States alone, the top two airlines are set to furlough more than 3,000 pilots when government stimulus expires this month, and a disproportionate number of those are women.

Under layoff agreements between airlines and unions, junior pilots lose their jobs before senior ones, regardless of gender, race or age.

These “Last In, First Out” labor deals at many Western airlines mean the most recent hires are the first to go.

And those new hires include a higher percentage of women than in the past, the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP) said.

Thompson, who flies with a regional carrier owned by American Airlines, is among at least 600 female pilots in the United States who will be furloughed on Oct. 1 unless there is more government payroll aid or last-minute union deals.

Thompson, 32, said her low seniority ranking puts her “smack-dab in the middle” of a furlough at American’s PSA affiliate, which expects to cut about 35 percent of its pilots.

“If you go back 40 years ago it was a man’s world through and through, so there are not a lot of women at the top who are protected from this furlough,” said Thompson, who decided not to have biological children as she built flying hours for her license.

“PSA is not letting (me) Megyn go because they don’t like her. It’s zero to do with that and 100 percent to do with, if you’re the last in, you’re the first out.”

Now the mother of three adopted children is applying for jobs at Amazon, Kellogg and PepsiCo.

Before the crisis, global air travel was growing at a record 5 percent a year, generating a need for 804,000 pilots over the next 20 years, based on Boeing Co. estimates. The need for more pilots had pushed female recruitment to the top of the agenda.

But a shattered post-COVID industry does not expect traffic to regain 2019 levels and start growing again before 2024.

“This year we were meant to launch a great big campaign which we have just put on hold because of what has happened,” said Australian pilot Davida Forshaw, who heads education and outreach at ISWAP.

Despite the female recruitment campaign, just 5.3 percent of airline pilots globally were women before the coronavirus crisis, ISWAP data shows. That percentage is set to drop again as airlines carry out furlough plans, the group predicts.

At American and Delta Air Lines, women make up around 5.2 percent of the combined pilot population of about 27,800 and 6.7 percent of the 3,645 pilots whom those airlines expect to furlough, according to numbers provided by their main pilot unions.

American Airlines declined to comment directly on the issue, but a spokesman said the union data implied that the proportion of female pilots would slip post-furloughs to 4.9 from 5.1 percent.

Delta said it was in discussions with unions on pilot departures but did not give a breakdown by gender.


Britain, EU tell each other to move on trade

Updated 20 October 2020

Britain, EU tell each other to move on trade

  • Both sides call on each other to protect billions of dollars of trade between the neighbors

BRUSSELS: Britain and the EU said on Monday the door was still open for a deal on their post-Brexit relationship, calling on each other to compromise to find a way to protect billions of dollars of trade between the neighbors.

With just over two months before Britain ends a status quo transition arrangement with the EU, talks on a trade deal are deadlocked, with neither wanting to move first to offer concessions.

A no-deal finale to Britain’s five-year Brexit drama would disrupt the operations of manufacturers, retailers, farmers and nearly every other sector — just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic repeated on Monday that the EU still wanted a trade deal but not “at any cost” after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday there was no point in continuing talks.

“It has to be a fair agreement for both sides — we are not going to sign an agreement at any cost,” Sefcovic told reporters after meeting Michael Gove, Britain’s point man on the existing divorce agreement, in London.

“The EU is ready to work until the last minute for a good agreement for both parties,” Sefcovic said.

Britain, increasingly frustrated by the EU’s refusal to start text-based talks, called on the bloc to make the first move, with its housing minister saying that Brussels only had to make “some relatively small but important changes.”

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick called on the EU to “go that extra mile, to come closer to us on the points that remain for discussion.”

A spokesman for Johnson again ruled out prolonging any negotiation beyond the end of this year, when the transition period runs out, saying the EU “must be ready to discuss the detailed legal text of a treaty in all areas with a genuine wish to respect UK sovereignty and independence.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been due in London for talks with British counterpart David Frost this week. Instead, they will now speak by telephone on Monday to discuss the structure of future talks, Barnier’s spokesman said.

Negotiations broke down on Thursday, when the EU demanded Britain give ground. Issues still to be resolved include fair competition rules, including state aid and fisheries. EU diplomats and officials cast Johnson’s move as a frantic bid to secure concessions before a last-minute deal was done, and European leaders have asked Barnier to continue talks.

British officials have repeatedly said any deal has to honor Britain’s new status as a sovereign country and not try to tie it to EU rules and regulations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said compromises on both sides would be needed. French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain needed a deal more than the 27-nation EU.

Britain is launching a campaign this week urging businesses to step up preparations for a no-deal departure. In a statement accompanying the launch, Gove says: “Make no mistake, there are changes coming in just 75 days and time is running out for businesses to act.”

More than 70 British business groups representing over 7 million workers on Sunday urged politicians to get back to the negotiating table next week and strike a deal.