Saturday, February 7, 2004

Delta pilots willing to talk

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The leaders of Delta Air Lines' pilot union didn't say yes, but they didn't say no, either.

After a leadership meeting ended Friday, officials with the airline's branch of the Air Line Pilots Association said they would still be open to continuing talks that could result in reducing pilot pay and benefits.

But such a contract adjustment would come only "if management indicates it is prepared to negotiate an agreement that reflects a Delta solution to Delta's problem," union spokeswoman Karen Miller said. She did not say when further discussions could take place.

The meeting took place a week after the two sides held the first formal negotiation session for restructuring the current contract. The Atlanta-based carrier is looking to cut pilot pay as its financial crisis continues - Delta lost $773 million in 2003, including $327 million in the fourth quarter, with another $300 million-plus loss expected for the current quarter. The losses, coupled with Delta's continued struggle to control its industry-high costs, have led some Wall Street analysts to speculate about the possibility of bankruptcy for the nation's third-largest carrier.

The 8,000-pilot union, which includes almost 900 based at Delta's second-largest hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, also said it was continuing to prepare for the normal negotiations that could start this summer for when the current contract officially becomes open for renewal.

The pilots signed their current five-year contract in June 2001, becoming the highest-paid in the industry.

But the company has sought to cut pay and benefits over the last year, seeking an almost 30 percent cut in salaries last summer The pilots have countered by saying they would take a 9 percent cut, while decrying what they say is the company's "take it or leave it" attitude.

"Delta remains fully engaged and committed to the negotiating process in order to achieve a long-term sustainable competitive cost structure," company spokesman John Kennedy said. "We're hoping that we can come to a quick agreement."


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