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.


India’s Reliance to push on with retail deal in battle with Amazon

Updated 20 min 29 sec ago

India’s Reliance to push on with retail deal in battle with Amazon

  • The row is the latest development in a prolonged battle for dominance in India between Reliance

MUMBAI: Indian conglomerate Reliance has dismissed Amazon’s push to delay its acquisition of domestic retail giant Future Group, despite an arbitration panel suspending the deal following objections by the US online titan.
The row is the latest development in a prolonged battle for dominance in India between Reliance, owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, and Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest person.
Amazon, which owned a stake in one of Future Group’s firms that reportedly included an option to buy into the flagship company, claims that the $3.4-billion Reliance deal, announced in August, amounted to a breach of contract.
After an arbitration panel ordered the deal to be put on hold following Amazon’s request, Reliance said late Sunday that it would nevertheless “enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay.”
Reliance’s retail subsidiary RRVL said in a statement that it had followed “proper legal advice” before agreeing to buy Future Group, adding that the deal was “fully enforceable under Indian Law.”
Reliance, Amazon and Walmart-backed Flipkart have been locked in a frenzied contest for a share of India’s lucrative online market.
The acquisition of Future Group, which owns some of India’s best-known supermarket brands such as Big Bazaar, would strengthen Reliance’s presence in the hugely competitive e-commerce sector.
The arbitration panel has 90 days to give a final verdict on the Reliance-Future deal.