Pinnacle, Mesaba Say Schedules Will Be Met

Northwest Airlines' regional carriers, Pinnacle and Mesaba airlines, vow they will fly a full schedule if Northwest's union mechanics strike.

That may be an easier commitment for Pinnacle to meet, though. Its mechanics are not unionized. Mesaba's belong to the same union that represents Northwest's mechanics and cleaners. And it's unclear what actions Mesaba mechanics may take in support of their fellow union members at Northwest.

Northwest mechanics could strike at 11:01 p.m. on Aug. 19 if they and Northwest don't hammer out a contract that provides the airline with big wage and other givebacks.

Between them, Mesaba and Pinnacle flew 11.7 million passengers for Northwest in 2004. For the most part, the two airlines fly between smaller cities and Northwest's hub airports in Memphis, Tenn., Detroit and the Twin Cities.

If its mechanics strike, Northwest boasts it will replace them and fly its normal schedule. The Eagan, Minn.-based airline appears ready to bring on some 1,000 replacement mechanics and ship some work, such as major plane overhauls, to outside vendors. It's also planning to have other employees do some work now done by mechanics, such as plane pushbacks from airport gates.

But could Mesaba and Pinnacle do additional flying if Northwest mechanics strike and do manage to mess up the larger carrier's operations? Northwest isn't saying.

A spokesman for the pilots union at Northwest says it's possible. But it would have to be done within limits set in the pilots' contract, which restricts where and how much regional jets flown by Mesaba and Pinnacle are used.

"It's conceivable they could replace some (Northwest) flying and not violate the contract," said union spokesman Hal Myers, a Northwest pilot.

The Northwest pilot contract, for instance, effectively caps how much flying Pinnacle and Mesaba can do for Northwest using 50- and 69-seat jets leased from Northwest. But there's no cap on 44-seat regional jets or how much they can fly, Myers indicated.

As of March of this year, Northwest had 433 passenger jets in its mainline fleet. They have 100-403 seats. Meanwhile, Northwest leased 35 69-seat jets to Mesaba, and it leased 123 jets with 44 or 50 seats to Pinnacle.

Eagan-based Mesaba and Memphis-based Pinnacle are separate companies but fly under the Northwest banner, deriving virtually all of their revenue from Northwest.

What will the Mesaba mechanics do if the Northwest mechanics strike?

"We don't know yet," said Ted Ludwig, a Northwest mechanic and president of local 33 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

Northwest has about4,400 AMFA mechanics and cleaners left on its payroll. Mesaba has about 120 AMFA mechanics, Ludwig said.

Mesaba does not expect any labor stoppage by its mechanics but it has contingency plans to replace them if necessary, spokesman Dave Jackson said.

"Northwest has said they plan to fly a full schedule and they will expect us to as well," he said.

Pinnacle also intends to operate a full schedule. "No Northwest mechanic touches a Pinnacle plane," said spokesman Phil Reed.

Separately, Mesaba parent MAIR Holdings reported quarterly earnings Tuesday. The company said it earned $1.2 million or 6 cents a share in the three months ended June 30, down from $2.9 million or 14 cents a share for the same period a year ago. Costs related to new aircraft were a key factor for lower earnings, it said. Revenue was up 8 percent, to $118.4 million in the most recent period.