Comair Pilots' Attorneys Push Executives in U.S. Bankruptcy Court

Attorneys for Comair's pilot union questioned executives in U.S. Bankruptcy Court Tuesday, laying the groundwork to argue the regional carrier fails to meet the legal tests required to impose pay cuts.

Erlanger, Ky.-based Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc., is asking Judge Adlai Hardin to impose $15.8 million in concessions on its roughly 1,550 pilots. That would mean about an 11 percent pay cut for pilots, who earn about $58,800 annually on average, according to court filings.

In court, the Air Line Pilots Association asked questions hoping to show the company did not negotiate in good faith with the union. Its attorneys also highlighted that 2006 looks to be a profitable year for the carrier.

That may run counter to the legal requirement that the concession proposal be limited to what is "necessary" for the company to successfully reorganize, according to the union's arguments filed with the court.

While questioning Comair Senior Vice President of Aircraft Operations Dave Soaper, pilots' attorney Peter DeChiara asked him if its cost-cutting target was a "nonnegotiable" number.

Soaper, Comair's chief negotiator with its pilots, testified that he did not remember calling it that, but someone else on his side of the table may have.

Earlier in the bankruptcy proceedings, Judge Hardin ruled Comair had negotiated in bad faith with its flight attendants when it set a nonnegotiable price-cutting target, DeChiara said.

Soaper testified later that while someone at the table may have said the target was nonnegotiable, the company's negotiating actions did not reflect that.

Comair has argued the reductions are a necessary part of a $3 billion restructuring plan that Comair parent Delta started when it filed for bankruptcy court protection in September 2005.

Pilots for Delta, the nation's No. 3 airline, have agreed to $280 million in concessions.

In January, the Comair pilots had approved a plan for $17.3 million in annual cuts over the next four years. That agreement, however, was contingent on Comair obtaining a certain level of cost cuts from flight attendants and mechanics. Since then, flight attendants have approved a deal to cut annual costs by $7.9 million, $1 million lower than was required under the January deal.

That forced Comair to renegotiate with pilots.

Hearings on the proposed impositions are scheduled to continue through the week.

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