Aviation

Pilots warn of distractions from looming vaccine deadlines

The Allied Pilots Association, a labor union representing 14,000 American Airlines pilots, is urging its members to stay focused as some pilots fight the carrier's vaccine mandate. 

The union has seen an increase in reports from pilots warning that discussions over vaccine mandates are becoming a distraction during flights. On Tuesday, the union's safety committee sent a memo reminding pilots to keep distractions out of the cockpit.  

"The latest hazard we face may be the hardest, regardless of your personal views concerning the vaccine mandate. We are seeing distractions in the flight deck that can create dangerous situations," read the memo to pilots. 

"We must eliminate distractions in the flight deck to ensure that we continue to operate at the highest levels of safety," it added.

The union is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to expedite its review of reports filed with the agency warning of distracted pilots. 

Like most major carriers, American Airlines is requiring all employees, including pilots, to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 24 to comply with President Biden's vaccine requirement for federal contractors. Those who do not get the shot or claim an exemption risk being fired.

Seventy-three percent of American Airlines pilots are vaccinated, according to Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for the union, which has warned that the carrier could lose large numbers of pilots if it doesn't change its plan to lay off unvaccinated workers. 

"The idea is to keep our airplanes flying, which have been flying very safely," Tajer said. "We haven't had one aircraft cause an outbreak."

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told CNBC's "Squawk Box" Thursday that the airline isn't going to lose workers over the mandate, noting that most employees are vaccinated and others can claim a religious or medical exemption.

Earlier this month, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association wrote a similar memo to members urging them to keep discussions about vaccine mandates out of the cockpit. 

"These distractions must be mitigated," the union told its pilots.

Southwest Airlines also announced a vaccine mandate for all employees in order to comply with the federal contractor rule, even though the airline's CEO said he is "not in favor" of vaccine requirements. 

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