Passengers' travel plans were scrambled again Friday as American Eagle suspended Midwestern flights for the second time in a week, this time because the pilots said they need more training in cold-weather flying.
"Who needs this stress this time of the year?" said Bill Tenace, an accountant whose plans to fly from Toledo, Ohio, to Chicago on Friday were pushed back a day because of the cancellations.The suspended flights in and out of O'Hare International Airport affect 10 other Midwestern airports. Some of the airports were swamped with long lines at counters as passengers made alternate travel plans.
Gregg Overman, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association in Arlington, Texas, said the pilots were "highly trained and very competent" but "virtually none of them are properly trained or proficient in winter ice conditions."
He said the pilots also are unfamiliar with O'Hare, the world's busiest airport.
American Eagle had just resumed limited service at O'Hare on Thursday after grounding its ATR turboprops in cold weather Dec. 9.
Saab 340 turboprop pilots and planes had been temporarily reassigned to O'Hare and John F. Kennedy Airport in New York from warmer climates after safety questions about the ATRs. American Eagle also canceled some of its flights at Kennedy, starting Friday.
Federal investigators suspect ice on the wings may have contributed to the Oct. 31 crash of an ATR-72 in Indiana that killed all 68 people aboard.
American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan insisted Friday that the Saab 340 pilots were amply trained.
"The pilots are trained to fly in all types of weather conditions, and they're certified to fly in all types of weather conditions," she said.
The airline hopes to resume service Jan. 4 with pilots from American Eagle's other three pilot unions, Fagan said. Those pilots - now in Miami; Raleigh, N.C.; and Nashville, Tenn., - have been trained to fly in icy conditions, she said.
"The difference is that their union leadership has not raised the safety issue," Fagan said.
APA President James G. Sovich said the majority of the pilots in his union have had no recent experience flying in winter weather. He said the only preparation management gave them was a 400-page insert in their flight manuals along with some information on how to navigate around O'Hare - all handed to them Wednesday night.
The pilots neither "requested nor demanded" the flight suspensions, Overman said.
Elsewhere, travel plans were also scrambled for some passengers of Kiwi International Air Lines. The company agreed Thursday to indefinitely suspend its 42 daily flights after the Federal Aviation Administration questioned the way it keeps records on pilot training. The FAA allowed one flight to take off Friday.