Delta May Request Pilot Recall Program Extension

Delta May Request Pilot Recall Program Extension

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ATLANTA (AP) -- Delta Air Lines Inc. will likely ask its pilots union to extend an agreement to recall retired pilots to prevent staffing shortages as it ambitiously expands its international service while operating under bankruptcy protection, chief executive Gerald Grinstein said Tuesday.

Grinstein made the comments after a news conference set up to launch new nonstop service to several European destinations beginning in May.

The nation's third-largest carrier has seen 1,190 of its pilots retire over the last year, many of them early. The mass exodus came as many pilots feared losing their pension benefits if the airline filed for Chapter 11, which it did Sept. 14.

Asked if the Atlanta-based airline is concerned about its ability to maintain its new international schedule long-term, Grinstein said Tuesday that it wasn't. He said Delta will likely ask the pilots union to extend an agreement first reached in September 2004 that allows it to recall retired pilots on a limited basis to help prevent staffing shortages. He said the current agreement runs out Dec. 31.

"We expect to be able to man that equipment," Grinstein told reporters gathered at the Atlanta airport.

A union spokesman did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

Delta's ranks of active line pilots have thinned in recent years from roughly 9,000 in early 2001 to about 6,000 now.

When the plan to recall post-retirement pilots was first reached, the union said there would be a "random selection process" for those in the post-retirement pool, which can be tapped only when staffing falls below a certain level. It said at the time that eligible pilots must be captain-qualified and current in certain models of aircraft.

The union said the agreement allowed it to determine after a period of time that no additional pilots can be employed as post-retirement pilots.

Delta needs its pilots for its broad international expansion.

The airline says its goal is to earn 35 percent of its revenues from international routes by 2007. Roughly 20 percent of Delta's revenue now comes from international flights and the other 80 percent from domestic flights.

The shift would make Delta comparable with most competitors, who derive 60 percent to 75 percent of their revenues from domestic flights and the rest from international flights.

Delta announced Tuesday new nonstop flights from Atlanta to Edinburgh, Scotland; to Nice, France; to Venice, Italy, and to Athens, Greece as well as New York to Budapest, Hungary; to Dublin/Shannon, Ireland; to Manchester, England, and to Kiev, Ukraine.

All of the flights are expected to begin in May, except the Kiev flight, which is expected to begin June 5 subject to foreign government approval.

Delta has said it would make international travel a bigger part of its operations as part of its effort to return to profitability. It has announced 50 new international destinations this year.

Union officials, meanwhile, have been meeting since Monday to discuss the company's request for $325 million in concessions from pilots. That would come on top of $1 billion in annual concessions the pilots agreed to last year.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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