American Airlines recently started flying to India. The airline is having some unique issues with this route, which is leading to very long flight times. One of those problems contributed to the flight having to divert to Gander today, so let’s go over the details.
American Airlines’ Russian airspace issue
American Airlines recently launched a route between New York (JFK) and Delhi (DEL) using a Boeing 777-300ER. At ~7,320 miles, this is a long flight to begin with, but it’s even longer because American Airlines doesn’t have the right to use Russian airspace on this route.
The always knowledgable @xJonNYC reports that this is because there are only certain periods where the Russian government accepts applications for airspace use, and I guess American didn’t make the request at the right time. This is strange, because this route has been in the works for a long time. Apparently American management thought it would be easy to get these airspace rights since the carrier uses Russian airspace for other routes, but not so much.
American’s inability to use Russian airspace has caused flight times to & from India to be about 90 minutes longer than needed. For example:
- United Airlines flies between Newark and Delhi using a Boeing 777-300ER, and in the past week the eastbound flight time has been 12hr30min to 13hr18min, while the westbound flight time has been 14hr23min to 14hr46min
- American Airlines flies between New York and Delhi using a Boeing 777-300ER, and in the past week the eastbound flight time has been 14hr21min to 14hr41min, while the westbound flight time has been 15hr37min to 16hr6min
As you can see, that’s a significant difference in flight times.
American Airlines’ pilot union isn’t happy
American Airlines pilots aren’t pleased with this new India flight. Eric Ferguson, the president of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), recently wrote a letter to fellow pilots about how management is again “trying to fix its failures on our pilots’ backs.” As the letter starts:
“Poor planning on management’s part does not constitute an emergency on our pilots’ part.”
Ferguson claims that the new route has caused a series of contract violations and “egregious abuses” of flight crews. These failures are largely due to the carrier’s inability to obtain Russian overflight permission.
Flights of this length have four pilots, but American’s contract requires that flights of over 16 hours have two captains and two first officers (rather than one captain and three first officers). All pilots are fully trained to fly the plane, so this is all about money — captains earn more than first officers, so the more captains there are, the more money union members are being paid.
American has allegedly been staffing this flight with one captain and three first officers, claiming the flight is under 16 hours. The union claims that isn’t fair, since the flight is often taking over 16 hours due to lack of Russian airspace rights.
The other claim is even more interesting:
“To compound these blatant errors, just this morning, Crew Scheduling called out an entire reserve crew — pilots and flight attendants — and assigned them to deadhead to Bangor, Maine, to sit reserve in the middle of the night for days on end just in case the Delhi flight ran into delays on departure and needed to stop in Bangor to re-dispatch in order to continue on to JFK. Our contract does not permit airport reserve, let alone airport reserve away from base — period, stop.”
For those who have no clue what this is referring to, essentially if there’s a delay beyond a certain threshold, the crew wouldn’t be able to operate a flight this long. That means the flight would either need to be canceled, or would need to operate to a closer destination, where there could be a crew change. The latter is generally the more preferable solution.
I’m not sure what exactly to make of this:
- Does American really not ever require pilots to be on reserve at the airport? And if so, why would the pilots have even agreed to this assignment?
- Why would sending crews to Bangor for days on end be necessary, since it’s only a few hundred miles from New York? In the event there’s a delay, it seems like they could just send a crew after the flight leaves Delhi…
American Airlines’ Delhi to New York flight diverts to Gander
Today’s American Airlines flight from Delhi to New York (AA293) has had quite an adventure. The flight was initially scheduled to depart at 12:55AM, but the flight was delayed by around four hours on departure. As a result, the crew wasn’t able to operate the flight all the way to New York, and of course that’s made worse by the longer than necessary routing due to lack of Russian airspace rights.
The choice at that point was to cancel the flight or have it divert, so the decision was made for the flight to divert to the (usually sleepy) airport of Gander… not to be confused with Bangor. The plane landed there at 10:24AM local time, and it’s scheduled to continue to New York with a new crew.
It looks like the relief crew will be arriving on AA9783 from New York, a flight that’s operated by an Airbus A321T (at least the crew will be comfortable, as the plane has 30 flat beds). That flight is only due to arrive at 12:15PM, so it looks like the Gander to New York flight will be delayed even further.
Talk about a costly diversion — American is having to fly an A321 roundtrip to Gander just to ferry the crew that will work the last few hours of the flight to New York. Presumably the crew that worked on the Delhi flight will get on the A321, and they’ll deadhead to New York on that.
American Airlines’ flight from Delhi to New York diverted to Gander today. A significant departure delay meant that the crew would time out, so the choice was to either cancel the flight or to divert to an intermediate point and have a crew change. American chose the latter option.
The issue is only exacerbated by American’s inability to use Russian airspace, which is making flights significantly longer than usual. And that’s also making pilots cranky.
These ultra long haul flights sure are challenging, because any sort of significant departure delay can have serious implications for a crew’s ability to work the entire flight.
Tricky stuff, eh?