Following a two-week long voting process, pilots at Southern Air, a subsidiary of Atlas Air Worldwide that flies exclusively on behalf of DHL, have ratified a Letter of Agreement (LOA) to improve their working conditions and wages. Although the agreement should raise some pilot standards at Southern, union representatives say there is more to be done.

The LOA was reached following a vote, which began on July 25, 2018, and closed on August 9, 2018, and was ratified by an overwhelming majority (94.75% margin) of “Southern Air members”. The interim agreement focuses on working conditions, wages and benefits. Most importantly, it increases pay rates for pilots at Southern to the same wage scales that are provided to those at Atlas Air.

Southern Air’s previous pilot contract, governed under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), was formed in 2012 while the airline was in bankruptcy. According to the union representing the pilots, Airline Professionals Association (APA), Teamsters Local 1224, ever since then, Southern has been unable to attract and retain a sufficient number of pilots to sustain operations.

Negotiations with Atlas Air have also been complicated by the merger of the two companies in 2016. In April and May this year, pilots at Southern have called for a strike action. Their main complaint being that standards at Southern Air are not on a par with those of at Atlas Air Worldwide, its parent company.

“For too long, Southern Air pilots have been operating under one of the worst contracts in the industry,” said Bryan Holmberg, a veteran pilot at Southern Air and the Southern Air executive council chairman at Airline Professionals Association (APA), Teamsters Local 1224 – the union that represents Southern Air pilots.

“While the Southern agreement no longer stands alone as the worst, we are on par with our Atlas brothers and sisters, joining them in what is now the low-bar agreement in the industry,” Holmberg goes on saying. “The company still has a long way to go until it will be able to end the rapid turnover and have the capability to attract the new hire pilots we need to meet growing customer demands.”

Atlas Air is also struggling to attract and retain pilots, says the union‘s chairman. Pilots who are employed by the carrier have reportedly said that many flights have been cancelled due to the lack of pilots, even though many have been asked to fly on their off days. In addition, Atlas seems to have only managed to grow by 160 pilots, that is, despite hiring 311 in the first half of 2018.