Horizon Air is deferring delivery of six Embraer 175 jets due to a shortage of pilots. Concerned that the jets may go to rival carrier SkyWest, the Teamsters union representing the pilots has filed for an injunction to ensure only Horizon can fly the planes.
The ongoing pilot shortage at Horizon Air, which already has caused hundreds of flight cancellations this year, has now forced management to defer delivery of six Embraer 175 jets because the airline doesn’t have enough pilots to fly the planes.
Concerned that management at Alaska Air Group’s regional carrier may lease the jets to rival SkyWest, the Teamsters union representing the pilots on Friday sought a federal court injunction to ensure only Horizon pilots can fly the aircraft.
Horizon, which until this year flew only turboprop aircraft, now has nine 76-seat E175s in service, with another coming next week. Those are part of a firm order for 33 of the jets from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.
Chief executive Dave Campbell said three E175s are being deferred this fall and three more in the spring.
“As to what is going to happen with those aircraft, nothing has yet been finalized,” Campbell said.
He said the jet deferrals were necessary because the pilot shortage requires a slowdown in Horizon’s planned fleet growth. Still, he insisted the deferrals are a temporary “pause.”
The six deferred jets will go to Horizon next year, said Campbell. By the end of 2018, all 23 of the E175 deliveries previously planned for this year and next will be at Horizon, he said.
“At that time, we will have the same number of jets as initially planned,” Cambell wrote in a message to all staff sent Wednesday.
That same day Teamsters Local 1224, which represents the 800 or so Horizon pilots, wrote to its members expressing concern that in the interim the jets will be delivered to SkyWest.
Regional carrier SkyWest, headquartered in St. George, Utah, already operates aircraft for Alaska Air Group as an external contractor, feeding passengers into the mainline Alaska Airlines flights just as Horizon does.
Though Horizon is an in-house subsidiary of Alaska Air, it effectively competes with SkyWest for Alaska Air business.
Alaska Air had earlier announced that SkyWest will take over some of Horizon’s routes this fall to try to avoid further cancellations.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle says Greg Unterseher, director of representation for Teamsters Local 1224, was told by Campbell in discussions over the past week that the Embraer deliveries couldn’t be deferred, so Alaska Air is creating a leasing subsidiary to lease the jets to SkyWest.
“SkyWest would then operate those aircraft for the benefit of Alaska Airlines on routes that Horizon Air would otherwise fly,” Unterseher said Campbell told him, according to the lawsuit.
In a letter responding to Unterseher’s initial concerns, also cited in the lawsuit, Campbell said Unterseher must have misunderstood what he said.
“It is my belief that (Alaska Air Group) does have the flexibility when it comes to aircraft deferrals,” Campbell wrote.
Nevertheless, the union is unconvinced and it sued to stop what it contends would be a breach of contract.
The union says that in a 2016 agreement it granted concessions to management on the basis that the company’s investment in the initial order for 30 E-jets would secure Horizon’s future. That agreement says “Horizon Air’s pilots represented by the Union would have the exclusive right to fly all of those firm order aircraft,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit also notes that the same commitment — “The E175s will be flown by Horizon exclusively” — was expressed in the company’s first-quarter earnings filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Campbell’s letter to Unterseher insisted that “it is the intention of Horizon and (Alaska Air) to honor the fleet letter that was previously signed.”
Yet that assurance didn’t stave off the lawsuit, revealing a breakdown in the trust that had been secured with an April compensation agreement between management and union.