Some were surprised when American recently announced a deal to buy as many as 100 Boeing “Dreamliner” planes – a cool, next-generation plane that is large, fuel-efficient and key to our efforts to upgrade the AA fleet.
The deal made news in part because it was a bold move in a volatile economy. While other airlines are pulling back their aircraft orders, AA went forward with one of the largest orders in its history – and one we believe could give us a distinct competitive advantage in the market.
In my world, however, the debate was a little different. Because the Boeing deal is contingent on the company getting a new contract with its pilots, the buzz here was whether the Allied Pilots Association would use the deal to try to gain leverage in its contract negotiations with the company.
Will the union try? Maybe. But let’s put this in perspective. We’ve been focused on finding a way through the turbulent times since 9/11. We have been working hard to reduce debt and strengthen our balance sheet. Much of what has been accomplished allows us to spend more time thinking about and planning for a successful future. And most agree – including most AA pilots – that it would be a big boon for the company to get these planes.
There will always be some buzz about labor negotiations because the process naturally draws a lot of attention. But the fact is that we negotiate contracts with the labor unions every few years and have for 70 years. The process is sometimes difficult and always complex, but we get it done, contract after contract after contract, and we ultimately get to a deal.
Meanwhile, the company is going about its business. We’re moving passengers and cargo, maintaining planes, scheduling the crews and negotiating with suppliers. That’s what we do.
In the case of the 787, we’re buying planes because that’s an essential element of managing our fleet. Beginning in spring of next year, we expect to take delivery of a new narrowbody aircraft every few weeks. With the 787, we begin replacing and upgrading our widebody fleet as soon as 2012. And I fully expect we will get there with an agreement that makes it possible for us to operate the 787 and lead the U.S. market in bringing this plane into our fleet.
With this deal, American is in a good place and this opportunity benefits everyone at the airline, including the pilots who will be flying new planes. Thanks to a good relationship with Boeing, we will be among the first in line to get the latest in aircraft technology. And we get that much closer to rebuilding our business to be a fierce competitor in a global industry.
Our efforts to manage this company for the long-term should and will continue during and outside our efforts to get to a win-win contract with each represented workgroup. Nobody wins if every development and decision we make as an airline becomes fodder for leverage at the bargaining table. That’s narrow thinking when we need to be thinking big. And the 787 deal is just that.