American Airlines is at loggerheads with its pilots over the causes of a sudden slump in punctuality that has forced the US’s third-biggest airline by revenues to cancel thousands of flights.

The airline, whose parent has been in bankruptcy protection since last November, said sickness levels among pilots had been “running higher than historical norms for some time”.

It also said it had seen an increase in the number of maintenance reports that pilots were filing.

A person familiar with the situation said pilots were unhappy and claimed the reports had included items as trivial as a broken coffee maker.

American said it had cancelled 300 of the 24,000 American Airlines and American Eagle departures due this week. In total, 1 to 2 per cent of services scheduled for September and October have been cancelled.

“These schedule adjustments will ensure we provide our customers with reliable service while minimising any impact to their travel plans,” American said.

However, the Allied Pilots’ Association, which represents American’s pilots, insisted it had neither supported nor organised any kind of industrial action and put the blame for the disruption on management.

Pilot sickness levels had not deviated from normal rates, the APA said, but it had noticed an increased number of mechanical defects on aircraft.

That was not surprising, the union said. “Although American Airlines operates the oldest fleet of any major US carrier, management has decided to furlough a large number of mechanics and close one of its largest maintenance facilities.”

The company had also reduced holdings of spare parts, the association went on. “Any negative impact on our airline’s operational integrity is of management’s own making.”

The dispute marks the latest stage in a longrunning tussle between American and its pilots over the restructuring of the company, which has struggled with higher cost levels than its large rivals.

Pilots were the only large employee group to reject proposed changes to their working conditions during the bankruptcy process and have had a new contract imposed on them by Sean Lane, the bankruptcy judge handling the case.

The APA has appealed against Judge Lane’s ruling.

Because the only contract has been rejected and no replacement put in place, pilots are currently operating under temporary work rules.

“Management’s action has generated significant uncertainty for our pilots with respect to employment protections and operating rules, which are now under management’s unilateral control,” the APA said.

American stressed that, despite the spike in maintenance reports, it continued to “respond appropriately” to all of them.

Get alerts on American Airlines Inc when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article