Tulsa impact of 19,000 lost jobs at American Airlines still up in the air


The extent of the impact at the airlines maintenance center in Tulsa isn’t known at this time, but American Airlines plans to eliminate 19,000 jobs in October because of the sharp downturn in travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flight attendants will bear the heaviest cuts, with 8,100 losing their jobs reported MarketWatch. The announcement came a week after the airline said it was ending its flight service out of the airport in Stillwater, Oklahoma along with more than a dozen other sites in the country.

The furloughs and management layoffs announced Tuesday are in addition to 23,500 employees who accepted buyouts, retired early or took long-term leaves of absence. American began the year with about 140,000 employees but expects fewer than 100,000 to remain in October.

Tulsa’s maintenance center has more than 5,500 employees and 600 of them were added in 2019. The center conducts nearly half of American’s overall maintenance work.

In February of this year, American announced it intended to invest $550 million at the Base Maintenance facility in Tulsa where it intended to build a new widebody-capable hangar and base support building. The company called it the largest investment ever made at a maintenance location in American’s history.

American said at the time that the investment “underscores American’s long-term commitment to the Tech Ops-Tulsa team, State of Oklahoma and City of Tulsa.

The new 193,000-square-foot hangar will be able to hold two widebody aircraft — or up to six narrowbody aircraft — and will replace two existing hangars that can no longer fully accommodate the size of American’s current aircraft. The 132,000-square-foot base support building will include offices for teams in administrative functions for aircraft overhaul, engineering and more.

How the coronavirus pandemic and American’s layoff announcement will affect the construction isn’t clear at this time.

U.S. air travel plunged 95% by April, a few weeks after the first significant coronavirus outbreaks in the United States. Passenger traffic has recovered slightly since then but remains down 70% from a year ago, and carriers say they need fewer workers.

American’s announcement comes one day after Delta Air Lines  said it will furlough 1,941 pilots in October unless it reaches a cost-cutting deal with the pilots’ union.

In March, passenger airlines got $25 billion from the government to save jobs for six months, and American was the biggest beneficiary, receiving $5.8 billion. The money, and an accompanying ban on furloughs, expire after Sept. 30, although airlines and their labor unions are lobbying Congress for another $25 billion and a six-month reprieve from job cuts.

When the federal relief was approved, “it was assumed that by Sept. 30, the virus would be under control and demand for air travel would have returned. That is obviously not the case,” American CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in a letter to employees on Tuesday.

American plans to fly less than half its usual schedule — and only one-fourth of its lucrative international service — in the fourth quarter. The airline, based in Fort Worth, Texas, announced last week that it will pull out of 15 smaller U.S. cities in October, a move that was seen as a warning shot to Washington that it should approve more money for airline payrolls.

“The one possibility of avoiding these involuntary reductions on Oct. 1 is a clean extension” of the payroll relief, Parker and Isom said in their letter to employees.

Airlines were the only industry to get special treatment in a $2.2 trillion virus-relief measure approved in March. There is broad support in Congress for extending that help, but it is stalled by a breakdown in negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats over a new aid package.