) - The president of the pilots' union at

American Airlines

said he is disappointed that the carrier and parent company



, which filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday, had "lost its way."

"While today's news was not entirely unexpected, it is nevertheless disappointing that we find ourselves working for an airline that has lost its way," said Allied Pilots Association President Dave Bates, in a recorded message for the union's 8,000 members.

To the extent that any single event precipitated the bankruptcy filing, it would be the breakdown in talks with the pilots union. Last month, the carrier posted a contract offer to pilots and asked that pilots vote on whether to approve it. But the union demurred on the grounds that the chance of approval was non-existent. No new talks had been scheduled.

In retrospect, it seems that publicly making an offer might have been part of a pre-bankruptcy strategy. In bankruptcy, the airline will be able to ask a judge to impose its contract offers. Unions will be able to negotiate in bankruptcy and also to argue their cases before the judge.

In his message, Bates noted that he had spoken Tuesday morning with CEO Tom Horton and John Hale, vice president/flight, and had been assured that American will operate its normal schedule.

"The 18-month timeline allotted for restructuring will almost certainly involve significant changes to the airline's business plan and to our contract," Bates said, noting that the union has diligently prepared for a bankruptcy filing. "Our goal must be to build working relationships with other creditors and investors to position our airline for a better future."

A regret, Bates said, is that in 2003, when the carrier came close to filing, "pilots provided management with significant cost savings that were characterized as essential to avoiding bankruptcy at that time. We agreed to sacrifice based on the expectation that our airline would regain its leadership position. What has transpired since has been nothing short of a perfect storm."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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