Northwest Warns Time is Running Out to Avoid Bankruptcy

The carrier said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its cash had fallen to $1.7 billion as of Wednesday, down from $2.1 billion on June 30.


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Northwest Airlines Corp. warned on Thursday that it is running out of time to avoid bankruptcy because of spiking fuel prices, and that it will lose as much as $400 million (euro322.9 million) this quarter. Company pilots said they would negotiate a new round of pay cuts.

The carrier said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its cash had fallen to $1.7 billion (euro1.37 billion) as of Wednesday, down from $2.1 billion (euro1.7 billion) on June 30. Some of the decrease was due to holdbacks required by the company that processes its credit card transactions, a situation that has also squeezed rival Delta Air Lines Inc. in recent weeks.

Northwest said its third-quarter loss would be $350 million (euro282.5 million) to $400 million (euro322.9 million), but possibly worse depending on the financial impact of Hurricane Katrina.

Northwest has been seeking $1.1 billion (euro890 million) in annual labor cost savings. It said it will probably increase that target, partially because of rising fuel prices, though the company didn't offer a new dollar figure.

Northwest said it expects to pay $1.90 to $1.95 per gallon of jet fuel, for a total of $900 million (euro726.5 million) for the quarter. It expects to spend at least that much in the fourth quarter, for a total of $3.3 billion (euro2.66 billion) for all of 2005. That's a 50 percent increase over the $2.2 billion (euro1.78 billion) it spent on fuel in 2004.

Northwest mechanics are on strike, but the nation's fourth-largest carrier has continued to fly by using replacement workers. On Thursday, it said the strike has not had a significant impact on revenue.

Northwest said it has run out of collateral for additional loans.

Pilots said Northwest's financial troubles are driving them back to the bargaining table.

''We feel that the threat of bankruptcy is high,'' said Capt. Mark McClain, chairman of the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association. ''If we can avoid bankruptcy, we feel that we can get a better settlement in negotiations voluntarily with Northwest management than we can get through the bankruptcy court.''

Northwest is in talks with flight attendants and ground workers. But only the pilots have agreed to pay cuts, accepting a 15 percent cut last fall that contributed $300 million (euro242.17 million) in savings toward Northwest's $1.1 (euro890 million) billion goal when combined with a cut for managers.

The pilot talks are voluntary; their pay-cut agreement last year called for Northwest to avoid asking for additional cuts until other unions had also agreed to concessions.

In the SEC filing, Northwest repeated its claim that it needs pension law changes and employee pay cuts to avoid a Chapter 11 filing.

''As a result of the recent spike in jet fuel prices, the time period for the Company to resolve these problems has been reduced,'' it said.

Northwest shares fell $1.06, or 21 percent, to $3.97 on the Nasdaq Stock Market before its SEC filing. Its shares dropped another 26 cents, or 6.5 percent, in late trading.

Also Thursday, striking mechanics tried to block buses taking replacement workers to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. At three hotels, strikers chanted ''scabs go home'' and ''scab hotel.'' One striker was arrested and cited for blocking traffic.

Ted Ludwig, president of the Minneapolis local of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, said the aim was to disrupt shift changes at Northwest. Airline spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said the shift changes happened as planned.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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