The US Airline Pilots Association is engaged in a pitched battle with US Airways over safety issues, including a lack of certain communications equipment on B767s flying to South America.
Pilots association president Mike Cleary wrote a letter April 13 to CEO W. Douglas Parker detailing how B767 pilots flying on South America routes face hazardous conditions because they have no SATCOM capabilities and "substandard" HF radios.
Cleary wrote that several flights had been diverted without any support from Dispatch because the pilots didn't have adequate communications equipment to contact the airline. In addition, it is usually impossible to obtain the FAA-required in-flight release because of the substandard communications.
James Ray, a spokesman for the pilots association, elaborated on the alleged problem:
HF Radio’s are World War 2 technology. Sometimes their reception is sketchy, sometimes they don’t work at all. They are used for long-range communications where our normal, VHF Communications are not available. (Line of sight range limitation.) The SATCOM is essential for communications in these regions. USAirways is the only U.S. airline flying to South America without them. We had a flight divert last year and could not communicate their position or intentions to their Dispatcher over HF Radio. The Company had no idea where they were. The pilots landed the airplane and everyone was fine, but we have to be in constant communications with our Dispatcher & Air Traffic Control. They were able to speak to the Tower where they landed on VHF radio, but could not talk with Air Traffic Control until they got close to their destination. Not a good thing! A SATCOM would take care of that. Pick up a phone and call anyone in the world from anywhere in the world.
In his letter to Parker, Cleary claims that all other major carriers flying in South America use SATCOM and that US Airways is dragging its feet on installing the capability because it revenue in the region doesn't justify the cost of the equipment.
Paul Morell, US Airways' vice president of safety and regulatory compliance, responded to Cleary April 18 on behalf of Parker, writing that data is being collected as a prelude to conduct a formal risk assessement and to develop mitigation strategies.
Morell added that the SATCOM and HF issues would be resolved "in the near future."
The SATCOM and HF issues are just part of US Airways' lack of attention to safety issues, according to the pilots assocation.
Cleary alleges that the airline has a poor safety culture and has been loathe to communicate with the association about an aircraft apparently damaged from a firearm discharge, fuselage integrity issues on the airline's 737s and fuel leak problems with the Airbus 330 fleet.
In fact, the USAPA is calling for Morell's dismissal for alleged dereliction of duties.
US Airways didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.