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Can Amazon Force Pilots Back Into the Air?

As the retail industry begins to prepare for its busiest time of the year, the amount of online shopping will increase by 11%. It’s estimated that consumers will spend over $91.6 billion in online shopping during the months of November and December.

One of the largest online retailers, Amazon, seems to be having a bit of trouble with its distribution. ABX Air flies for companies like Amazon and DHL and asked a federal judge to force pilots to go to work after a strike proves to upset holiday deliveries.

On Tuesday, ABX filed a lawsuit to send the pilots back because Christmas shipping “could be severely impacted” if cargo flights carrying products for DHL and Amazon were canceled, losing millions of dollars due to undelivered cargo.

According to Airline Professionals Associations, Teamsters Local 1224, ABX Air flies 35 flights for Amazon and 45 for DHL on a daily basis. About 250 pilots went on strike to protest the staffing shortages. As a result, ABX stated that nearly 26 flights, which holds an estimated 1.25 million pounds of cargo, were grounded on Tuesday.

While the pilots picket outside of ABX Air headquarters in Wilmington, Ohio, Satish Jindel, the president of SJ Consulting Group said, “While they go through this court process, planes are not flying. Obviously, that is of concern to a company like DHL and Amazon.” Jindel did say that Amazon can use United States Parcel Service, FedEx, or other smaller shipping companies to move packages until things pan out.

The Railway Labor Act, established over 90 years ago, was set to prevent things like this from happening by preventing labor disputes, so pilot strikes are very rare. When strikes do happen, they rarely last long because the company will request a judge to initiate a restraining order until it can be determined whether the strike is legal. The pilots say that due to the contract breach by ABX, their strike is entirely legal.

Although Amazon announced in March that it would bring in 20 Boeing 767 freighters, the union argues that ABX Air violated its contract and forced pilots to work large numbers of emergency assignments. By taking more emergency assignment, there was no time off due to lack of pilots to live up to Amazons growing expectations.

Rick Ziebarth has been with ABX for 39 and says, “For the past two years, we’ve been warning them that they are dangerously short on pilots, “The lifestyle of our crews have really taken a nose-dive. I can’t tell you how many birthdays, anniversaries and even funerals pilots can’t attend as a result of these emergency assignments.”

The stress of flying day and night, with nowhere to rest but in the cockpit, increases the pilot’s fatigue. The routes are no small feat, going from Wilmington to Dallas, then to Stockton, California, and from there to Illinois then back to Wilmington, Ohio again. While pilots do say that they are willing to make adjustments for their customers, however, what they really want is for the company to honor the vacation times they were promised and regulate the emergency assignments.

To address the recent issues, Amazon made a statement via e-mail saying that works with many different carriers and is confident in its ability to serve consumers. DHL also made a statement saying, “due to a work stoppage affecting our airline partners, inbound deliveries to portions of the Americas will be delayed today.” The U.S. president could get involved if transportation is greatly affected across the country, but such occasions rarely happen.

The use of planes to ship cargo is part of Amazons plan to efficiently ship packages. This is an effort made due to the expansion of Amazon’s $99-a-year membership that offers one-day shipping. Plane use cuts down on Amazon dependence on UPS and FedEx as shipping methods.

This pilot strike proves how much the lack of air cargo could hinder Amazon’s distribution. The company now must compete with FedEx and UPS, who pay their carries better wages and offer better benefits.

Matt Barton with FlightPath Economics in Golden, Colorado pointed out that, “I don’t think Amazon has encountered a problem like the pilot shortage before and it doesn’t have a quick and easy solution. A lot of these carriers are going to have a hard time finding the pilots they need.”

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