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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 11:52 a.m., Thursday, April 3, 2008

Airline pilots union issues statement on ATA shutdown

Advertiser news services

The Airline Pilots Association issued the following press release following ATA Airlines' announcement that it was shutting down and halting all of its flights, including ones to and from Hawai'i:

CHICAGO The union representing the pilots of ATA Airlines is condemning the airline's management for its callous disregard of its employees and passengers in canceling all operations without warning early on Thursday morning.

"By shutting down in the middle of the night, this management group has let down its loyal customers and the flight crews, cabin crews, mechanics, and other employees who have made deep sacrifices over the past few years to keep ATA afloat," said Capt. Steve Staples, chairman of the ATA unit of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l. "It shows an utter lack of respect and illustrates the ruthlessness of Wall Street hedge fund managers who have no knowledge or interest in the companies they own."

ALPA was notified at approximately 4:00 a.m. Central time that the airline was filing for bankruptcy and shutting down all operations immediately. The airline's last flight was ATA Flight 4586, a morning red-eye from Honolulu to Phoenix that was scheduled to land at 8:34 a.m. Pacific time.

"ATA's customers and employees had absolutely no warning that the airline was going out of business," Staples said. "This abrupt withdrawal is the airline equivalent of getting on the last helicopter out of Saigon.

"The April 3 announcement that ATA is ceasing operations is two days shy of the first anniversary of ATA's announcement that its holding company was buying World Airways and North American Airlines. On April 5, 2007, ATA Holdings changed its name to Global Aero Logistics (GAL) and, in August 2007 completed the transaction that gave it three airlines: ATA, World, and North American. GAL is privately held by the hedge fund MatlinPatterson Global Opportunities Partners II.

"We find it unusually coincidental that ALPA, which was in contract negotiations with ATA and had the best opportunity to change our collective bargaining agreement to reflect the new realities of the industry, was suddenly forced to shut down while World and North American will continue operating under the Global Aero Logistics banner," Staples said. "Since when does the acquiring airline go out of business while the acquired airlines keep flying?

"Staples said that all ATA employees are the ultimate victims of a series of incompetent managers who chose to blame economic conditions for the airline's problems instead of admitting their own mistakes.

"We were telling management two years ago that they needed to institute a fuel management program, and even found a fuel consultant who offered to work with the company - but our overtures to help ATA reduce its fuel costs were repeatedly ignored," he said. "Management decided to outsource virtually all of our maintenance, then acquired elderly, unreliable DC-10s that needed extensive repairs. The ripple effect of years of poor management decisions - not the current economy - was what doomed ATA."Staples said the union's top priority is making sure that all 585 ATA pilots and flight engineers find new jobs, especially since part of ATA's fleet has been transferred to World Airways and more airplanes could go to World and North American later.

"Our position is that we are pilots of Global Aero Logistics, which is still operating, and we deserve to be in the cockpits of Global's airliners. Our contract says that the pilots go with the airplanes, and we will use every legal means available to us to ensure that our members' rights are protected," he said.Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world's largest pilots' union, representing 61,000 pilots at 43 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Visit the ALPA Web site at http://www.alpa.org.