American Airlines to close pilot base at St. Louis Airport in 2018

ST. LOUIS - American Airlines is cutting another key link to its TWA past in St. Louis. The airline will close its pilot base at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport on September 1, 2018.

It’s more of an ego hit to St. Louis than an economic one, analysts said. It's certainly tough news for the 180 American pilots based here.

A letter from American's VP of Flight Operations to the pilots reads, in part, “...it's obviously not the news our StL pilots want to hear...this closure is for the StL pilot crew base specifically and does not affect StL operations, including flight service, maintenance, or our overall level of air service.”

The pilots are already fighting an arbitration ruling this summer, stripping them of the seniority they earned with TWA.

The pilot base here is a holdover from American's 2001 takeover of TWA. American promised then to maintain St. Louis operations, but closed the St. Louis hub two years later.

More than 400 American flights operated from St. Louis then, but only 41 daily flights now. Only 19 of them are mainline flights with actual American pilots. The rest are contracted flights through other carriers.

American ties the move to the phase out of McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 aircraft acquired in the takeover. By next fall, the only remaining MD-80s will be based at DFW. By the fall of 2019, they'll be completely gone. So the pilots are eventually going to have train to fly new planes.

“If they were to get rid of all of the MD 80s tomorrow, then the 180 people pilots who work here wouldn’t have a job,” said Mel Burkart, a retired TWA pilot and aviation professor. “They’d have to go someplace to find an airplane they could fly. My guess is most of the people will continue to live here and commute to work…(the closure) has nothing to do with the amount of flights they’re going to operate in and out of St. Louis.”

Commuting was very common in the industry, he said. American has also recently closed its pilot base in San Francisco.

The close to 600 American flight attendants and maintenance workers based in St. Louis are not impacted.