By Jane Roberts [email protected]
For the third time since Sept. 11, 2001, FedEx Express has suspended personal jumpseat privileges, citing an internal security review.
In an internal memo dated Aug. 15, Express executive vice president Dave Rebholz said the company had “made the difficult decision” to suspend personal jumpseating, and could not say when it would be reinstated.
Pilots, mechanics and corporate employees may still use the jumpseat for business travel.
“We suspended personal jumpseating after an intermittent review of our security procedures,” said Maury Lane, spokesman.
“We don’t discuss security reviews or how they’re done.”
Free personal travel in company planes has been a perk at FedEx nearly since the company began. It has one of the most generous jumpseating policies in aviation, allowing any Express employee to use the jumpseat for leisure travel to any destination it flies.
While Lane says “no single event” brought about the change, pilots for weeks have said “three suspicious” passengers raised concerns on a flight from California to Memphis this summer.
An August message on Jetflyer – an online newsletter for FedEx pilots – says they were allowed to fly, even though they had no luggage and acted suspiciously.
The message was posted by Memphis-based Airbus-300 first officer Mark Koszalka.
He had no comment Wednesday about the allegations.
In his entry, Koszalka said the incident was so suspicious, the plane’s pilot, Memphis-based Capt. Mike Mullally, copied details to the FBI and Transportation Security Administration details.
Mullally could not be reached.
Neither the FBI nor TSA is investigating a jumpseat incident in Memphis.
Nor is the Federal Aviation Administration involved, according to spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. The agency was also not part of a recent security review at FedEx.
“The company decided to make some changes,” she said. “I’m not sure any specific incident targeted it.”
Dave Webb, chairman of the FedEx unit of the Air Line Pilots Association master executive council, said he’d heard other versions of the story, but said, “Everyone has told me they have no information.”
FedEx suspended jumpseat privileges for the first time immediately following 9/11.
It briefly resumed them for business travel in August 2002 before suspending again in 2003 for six months while the company installed metal doors between the cabin and cockpit.
Nonpilot “stagers” – people with company permission to jumpseat to work from their homes – now must have approval from two layers of management to fly.
“The point is they can still get on the jumpseat. They really haven’t stopped people from using it,” Webb said.
Jumpseating has been a touchy issue with FedEx pilots since April 7, 1994, when a jumpseater, fellow pilot Auburn Calloway, attempted to hijack a FedEx plane bound for San Jose, Calif.
Calloway boarded the plane as a jumpseat passenger, and soon after takeoff attacked the three crew members with a hammer he carried aboard the DC10 in a guitar case.
He severely injured his colleagues in the ensuing fight and was gravely injured in the process.
The crew subdued Calloway and returned to Memphis International Airport without loss of life or property.
Since 9/11, company policy now requires criminal background checks every six months for employees who wish to use the jumpseat. They must also pass a certification test and be screened for non- approved items before boarding.
FedEx now also limits jumpseating to domestic flights on wide- body jets where the seat is outside the cockpit.
Although the suspension eliminates personal travel for all FedEx employees, its pilots may still travel for free on other airlines through the TSA’s national Cockpit Access Security System, a program engineered by a coalition of pilot unions that allows ticketing agents to verify a pilot’s identity and employment status before being admitted on board.
-Jane Roberts: 529-2512