Saturday, October 2, 2004

Airline coping with 71 retiring

Early-outs among senior pilots covered by pact

By James Pilcher
Enquirer staff writer

After Delta Air Lines scrambled to reach a side agreement with its pilots this week to address the larger-than-normal number of pilots retiring early, 71 pilots took early retirement at the end of September.

But company officials said Friday Delta can work with that number, especially since it now can re-hire recently retired pilots at senior pay under the agreement ratified by the union Tuesday.

"There won't be an operational impact due to retirements, and that was the concern," said Delta spokeswoman Tanya Dunne. "The ratification of the pilot early retirement agreement is a positive example of what we can do when we work together to find mutually acceptable solutions to our problems."

Officials with the Atlanta-based airline's pilot union said Friday that another 28 pilots retired normally Thursday - they are not required to give advance warning and can just retire at the end of the month.

Delta had warned that it would declare bankruptcy if the issue was not resolved by the end of the month. It said that if too many pilots retired early, it could leave key plane types understaffed, meaning flight cancellations and lost revenue.

More than 100 pilots had retired early at the end of June, and another 71 had left early in August, and Delta has more than 2000 pilots 52 or older - pilots are required to retire at age 60. The company has nearly 8,000 pilots total, including nearly 800 based at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Many left over concern about the fate of their pensions and the ability to take a lump-sum settlement.

But in return for the agreement allowing recently retired pilots to be rehired, the company promised not to alter the pension until February 2005, even if it declares bankruptcy before then.

The carrier still wants $1 billion worth of annual cost cuts from its lone major unionized workforce. Negotiations on that front continue next week, the union told its pilots earlier this week.

Delta, which has lost more than $5 billion in the last three years, has not yet set a deadline for an agreement, but has said that bankruptcy is probable if the concessions are not achieved.

Neither management nor the union has commented on specific issues in the negotiations.

Shares in Delta closed at $3.45, up 16 cents.



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