Boeing, Engineers’ Union Clash Over Pilot Layoffs

Boeing has flatly denied accusations by its engineers’ union that it fired a group of seven pilots involved in training airline crew on new aircraft types and replaced them with contract pilots employed by a “shell company” in the Isle of Man. The charges—outlined in a pair of written statements form the International Federation of Technical and Professional Engineers (IFTPA) and its local affiliate, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA)—stem from the involuntary layoffs of Boeing’s line assist instructor pilots, whose jobs had become redundant because of a lack of new-model airplane introductions, according to the manufacturer.

“Boeing employs hundreds of pilots to support its operations and its customers around the world,” said the company in a statement. “A small group serves the specific role of in-flight instructors for airlines that purchase a brand-new airplane type for its fleet. In the current business environment where few airlines are expected to introduce all-new models in the near-term, we have made the decision to eliminate the distinct position of line assist instructor pilot.”

According to the SPEEA statement, Boeing representatives said pilots contracted from Isle of Man-based Cambridge Communications Limited would do nearly all simulator and in-flight training involved in the 737 Max’s return to service.

“I was gobsmacked to hear company officials admit that Boeing will exercise zero quality control over these contractor pilots despite costuming them in Boeing uniforms,” said SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth. “The entire fate of the Boeing Company depends upon a smooth re-entry into service of the 737 Max. I cannot believe Boeing chose this moment to fire their highly experienced training pilots and outsource their work to contractors they don’t even control.”

A Boeing spokeswoman characterized the charges as categorically false and the pilot separations as simply part of a wider companywide effort to reduced headcount. She added that Boeing did not “fire” the pilots, and offered them the same opportunity to apply for jobs elsewhere in the organization as it did for the rest of the laid-off employees.

“The small group of line assist instructor pilots has not supported 737 training for several years and was not expected to be involved in 737 Max training when we return the airplane safely to commercial service,” said Boeing.

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