Eastern Airlines, declaring that it has run out of patience waiting for its picketing pilots to return to work, said Sunday that it will start hiring “permanent” replacements.
In an ad in the Miami Herald, Eastern said it is looking for “people of exceptional talent and pride, pilots who will be part of the most exciting story in the airline industry.”
The airline warned potential candidates that “given the current strike . . . your assignment at Eastern may require you to perform the services of, or replace, employees involved in the labor dispute. But understand that this is an unprecedented opportunity for growth and success.”
The Air Line Pilots Assn. interpreted the ad as an effort mostly to put pressure on striking pilots to work. The union said the carrier would have a hard time hiring replacements because of a nationwide pilot shortage.
“This is simply a continuation of the scare tactics and mind games that Eastern management has been playing with its striking employees since the beginning of the strike,” said John Mazor, a spokesman at ALPA headquarters in Washington.
3,600 Pilots Walked
All but a relative handful of Eastern’s 3,600 pilots walked off work March 4 in sympathy with striking members of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Only 100 union member pilots and 100 management pilots are working, enabling the crippled airline to maintain only about 100 daily flights out of a pre-strike schedule of 1,040.
Eastern spokesman Robin Matell acknowledged that the airline is moving to hire new pilots because ALPA has “been successful in discouraging most of its pilots from returning to work.”
“We have been very patient in waiting for the union to come to its senses,” Matell said. “But we see that they are slowly killing the company they helped to build. These are good pilots who are jeopardizing their careers.”
Eastern said the new pilots would be hired at $18,300 a year, about the starting pay in the industry. Pilots currently earn an average of $90,000 at the airline. Matell said the airline will not lower its standards for pilot training, experience and education.
ALPA’s Mazor said Eastern would have difficulty in attracting new pilots. “Good luck to them,” he said. “There aren’t enough qualified pilots out there to replace even a significant portion of the Eastern pilots.”
Mazor said the military, once a major source of commercial airline pilots, is making it more attractive to stay in the service. He also noted that in 1983, when the economy was weak and airlines were going out of business, about 15% of eligible pilots were jobless. Today, he said, almost none are unemployed.
In other developments:
* Matell denied that the airline’s entire fleet of narrow-bodied planes is up for sale, as was reported over the weekend. However, the airline has put out bulletins alerting potential buyers that it has some Boeing 727 and 757 planes for sale as well as some McDonnell Douglas DC-9s.
Matell noted that Eastern President Phil Bakes previously had said the airline would be downsized to about 70% of its original size. “By no means are all our planes for sale,” he said. “We would sell some for which we could get a good price. We certainly cannot run our route system with only wide-body planes.”
Eastern has about 230 planes in its fleet. Because commercial airplane builders are behind in their production schedules, demand and prices for used aircraft have soared.
* William F. Genoese, an official of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, threatened to stage a sympathy strike at Pan American World Airways. One of the targets would be the Pan Am Northeast shuttle where the two airlines compete. Such an action would tie up the entire Boston-Washington-New York corridor.
* Columbia College, the undergraduate school at Columbia University in Manhattan, canceled an annual dinner at which Eastern Airlines chief Frank Lorenzo was to receive a top alumni award. In a statement, the college said the action was taken “because the current emotional climate in the labor dispute between Eastern Airlines and its Machinists’ union makes it impossible to guarantee an atmosphere appropriate to such a celebratory event.” There have been reports that a protest was being planned to disrupt Thursday’s dinner.