Upbeat Delta to Hire New Pilots

Delta Air Lines will resume hiring new pilots after a five-year hiatus, with interviews for new co-pilots beginning in January, the company said Wednesday.

The announcement wasn't unexpected, as the Atlanta airline stated last month it would bring back 200 furloughed pilots and probably hire new pilots in 2007 to keep up with its growth plans.

As with earlier employee call-back announcements, Delta called its decision to start interviewing pilots a sign that its restructuring efforts are working. Such rhetoric has taken on new meaning in the wake of US Airways' hostile takeover bid for Delta.

Delta, in a reorganization plan filed this week in bankruptcy court, argued that it will perform better as an independent company and criticized US Airways' $8.5 billion bid.

A court-appointed creditors committee that is weighing both proposals said Wednesday that it welcomed Delta's stand-alone plan but indicated it also will be looking for more details and looking at alternative proposals.

In a terse statement, the committee of unsecured creditors said it "supported Delta's decision to file its proposed plan of reorganization."

"A number of issues, including those left open in the plan ... will be the focus of continuing discussions between the committee and Delta over the coming weeks," the group added. "At the same time, the committee will continue to consider potential alternatives in order to maximize the ultimate recoveries for the unsecured creditors in the Delta bankruptcy."

US Airways was encouraged by the word from the committee.

The committee's statement "makes clear that it has not decided to endorse Delta's plan of reorganization and is continuing to evaluate our proposal," US Airways said in a written statement. The airline has previously said it expects creditors to ultimately back its bid. "With the filing of Delta's plan, the process is moving forward. We will continue to work with the creditors' committee as it evaluates the value created by our proposal compared with Delta's standalone plan."

Delta, which has lopped tens of thousands of workers from its payroll since 2001, has lately been in a hiring mode in most job categories.

The carrier, which has about 6,000 pilots, has been calling back flight crews as it ramps up international flying. The airline has announced plans to add 13 used Boeing 757s, several wide-body Boeing 777s and 10 Boeing 737s.

This year, Delta says it has offered recalls to 340 pilots, 900 mechanics and 1,200 flight attendants. Employees have said only a fraction are typically coming back to the carrier, however, because they have found other jobs.

One of Delta's chief pilots said the decision to start recruiting pilots --- Delta's first pilot hiring since 2001 --- is a "significant milestone."

"Clearly, this announcement, coupled with our recently announced order for new Boeing 737 and 777 aircraft as well as the planned acquisition of 13 Boeing 757s, shows that Delta's plan is working and the future for the Delta pilot group looks bright," said Steve Dickson, vice president of flight operations, in a press release.

Separately Wednesday, federal bankruptcy Judge Adlai Hardin approved Delta's recent agreement with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., clearing the way for the carrier to shed its pilots pension plan.

Another issue originally slated for Wednesday's hearing, an agreement with Boeing settling Delta's pre-bankruptcy aircraft orders with the new aircraft orders, was uncontested.

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