Navigating the skies and DC

Navigating the skies and DC

When passengers board a Delta Airlines flight at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, the voice they hear welcoming them aboard from the cockpit could be new Air Line Pilots Association President Tim Canoll.

Canoll, who took the reins for the influential pilot group this year, still flies for Delta part-time when he’s not busy fighting turbulent battles about the aviation industry in Washington.  

“I still fly. It’s not often, but I do get to go out and fly every other month or so,” he said. 

“I’m an MD 88/90 captain for Delta,” Canoll continued. “It’s mostly short-haul domestic flights up and down the East Coast. A little bit to the west, but when I get to fly I try to pack in as tight as I can … get as many takeoffs and landings as possible.” 

Canoll said taking the control of commercial flights also helps him appreciate the difficulties that rank-and-file members of his union are faced with on a daily basis, which helps when he is advocating for their agenda on Capitol Hill.  

“I’m very fond of saying airline pilots make it look really easy, because we have the safest transportation industry in the history of man operating in the United States,” he said. “A great deal of that is due to the members operating the aircraft, they make it look easy but when you get out there and do it, all of sudden it hits you ‘wow this isn’t easy.’ ”

“Operating a system with all the checks and balances and the redundancy of what we do is very, very difficult and it’s something I don’t take lightly,” he continued. “I think it grounds me when I get back there and get to do it.” 

Canoll, who also served as a Navy Reserve flight captain until he retired in 2008, has been a member of the pilots association since the early 1980s. 

“I was kind of drafted into a position as a representative at my first base down in New Orleans,” he said of his initial entry into the union. “I progressed after a couple terms down there into doing other work for the union, committee work on various committees.” 

Now that he has been elected to a four-year term, to a place atop the pilots union’s Washington office, Canoll is fighting regulatory battles with international airlines on multiple fronts. 

Of the biggest challenges currently facing pilots in Washington, Canoll identified two: subsidies that are given to state-owned Middle Eastern airlines; and efforts by Norwegian Air International to gain approval from the Department of Transportation to base operations out of Ireland for flights to the U.S. under the “Open Skies” agreement between the Irish and American governments.  

“The threat that we face from the ‘flag of convenience’ model presented by Norwegian Air International … I sometime like to use the term ‘flag of circumvention,’ ” he said. “The reason I say that is it’s solely set up to do really one thing and that’s circumvent the laws of normal order, and that’s both labor and tax laws, and take advantage of what they wouldn’t have if they were operating out of their own base.” 

Canoll similarly cited subsidies that the U.S. airline industry accuses Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines of receiving as being as a “profound” challenge to U.S. airline pilots. 

Airline groups have said three Middle Eastern airlines, owned by the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have received more than $42 billion in subsidies since 2004. 

“We can’t compete against that,” he said. “That’s not fair competition. That’s a government subsidy.” 

Consumer groups have accused the pilots union and other groups that are affiliated with the U.S. airline industry of being afraid to compete with foreign airlines. 

“US network carriers — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines — not satisfied with their near monopoly position domestically or with their airline alliance antitrust immunity, are attempting to stop competition from the Gulf Carriers — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar,” Travelers United Chairman Charlie Leocha wrote in a blog post on his group’s website. 

“Consolidation in the US airline industry and antitrust immunity grants to airline alliances have created dangerous degradation of competition in the United States,” Leocha continued. “This juggernaut of anti-competitive and anti-consumer airline actions must stop.” 

Canoll, however, said his union, along with other groups that represent parts of the domestic aviation industry, is trying to protect the nation’s flight safety standards, which he said have been a model for the rest of the world. 

“If you look at the previous example of this business model finding its way into our country here in the United States, go back to just after I was born, there were approximately 100,000 U.S. mariners,” he said, comparing the Norwegian application to the U.S. cruise industry. 

“There’s are approximately a little less than 100,000 pilots flying in the United States,” he continued. “Today … 50 years later, there’s 2,500 U.S. mariners. I am really fearful that if we allow the ‘flag of convenience’ model to grab hold in our industry, the same thing will happen. Fifty years from now, there will only be 2,500 U.S. airline jobs. The rest will have been off-shored.”