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US Airways' New Pilot Leader Calls Himself a 'Peacemaker'

By Ted Reed
The Street.com

The new president of the US Airways pilots union said he has always been "a peacemaker" and wants to continue that role by moving to end conflict between two factions of pilots and between pilots and the airline.

"Everyone's looking for a bit of a change," said Gary Hummel, a 56-year-old Philadelphia-based Airbus captain, in an interview. "I think the [America West] pilots, as well as the company, are looking forward to having a peacemaker, and my role in life has [often] been that. I've always believed that trust is something you extend, not something you receive."

In the election for leadership of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, a remarkably high 89.3% of 3,872 eligible pilots voted. Hummel received 63% of the votes for president, besting Eric Ferguson. In races for vice president and executive vice president, pilots affiliated with Hummel won by similar majorities. Stephen Bradford, USAPA's founding president, was elected vice president, while Steve Smyser was elected executive vice president. New three-year terms begin April 18.

Ever since a 2005 merger between US Airways, known as "the east," and America West, pilots have been split by a controversial seniority ruling. Pilots agreed to "final and binding" arbitration, but the ruling seemed to so strongly favor west pilots that east pilots, who had a two-thirds majority, voted to leave the Air Line Pilots Association after 57 years and create a new union. That majority was reflected in the leadership election.

Hummel said pilots should work together and let the courts decide what will happen with seniority. A judge's decision is pending in a case that has been heard in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

Soon after taking office, Hummel said he intends to unveil a new initiative to inspire pilot group harmony. "We need to find a way to turn down the volume and get down to business," which includes negotiating a new contract, he said.

In this, Hummel has support from both airline management and Ferguson.

US Airways CEO Doug Parker called Hummel to congratulate him soon after results were announced. "We look forward to working with USAPA's new leadership team," said airline spokeswoman Michelle Mohr. Under Hummel's predecessor, Mike Cleary, who did not seek re-election, the relationship was contentious even before pilots mounted a safety slowdown in the spring of 2011.

Ferguson, who has also congratulated Hummel, said, "Beyond seniority, I have few disagreements with Gary. He will make a great president and he will have my support on all the goals we share. I look forward to sweeping changes for the union, and I will hold him to his pledges to make them." He said he expects "a lot more west involvement than we have had in the past."

Once the court rules -- one way or the other -- the airline should see a clear path to contract negotiations, Ferguson said, noting that "there are 30 sections of the contract. If you take out section 22, which deals with seniority, you still have 29 others you can be working on."
Looking ahead to the possibility of a merger attempt with bankrupt AMR (AAMRQ.PK), which US Airways management is pursuing, Hummel said, "We are very sympathetic to our fellow pilots at American.

"US Airways pilots and American pilots have a lot in common," Hummel said. "After the 9/11 attacks, American pilots took billions in contract concessions that remain in effect, and US Airways pilots lost their retirements and paychecks and gave up $1 billion in concession." If a deal is made, he said, "it must include a commitment by management that recognizes the sacrifices that pilots have made to keep the airlines flying."

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