Time is running out for Comair and its pilots to reach an agreement on wage cuts and other concessions.
The Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary and the union representing its 1,500 pilots enter their final negotiations this week.
Comair has said that it could impose concessions on its pilots Friday if no agreement is reached by then. But the company probably won't take that action until a federal bankruptcy judge rules on Comair's request that the court block pilots from striking.
"We remain hopeful that our discussions in the coming days will be productive, but we also have to plan for the possibility that we will not reach an agreement," Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said Friday.
The pilots have authorized union leaders to call a strike if Comair throws out their contract and imposes $15.8 million in annual concessions.
Comair asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Adlai Hardin Jr. in December to bar pilots from striking but later asked the judge to postpone his ruling while negotiations continued. The airline said it will ask the judge to make his decision Thursday.
"It seems that the company would rather litigate than negotiate," Paul Denke, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association that represents Comair pilots, said Friday.
The union still hopes agree with Comair on a deal that both sides see as fair, Denke said, but a court order blocking a strike would cause more pilots to leave the company.
"A lot of them who would rather stay at Comair will be forced to seek other jobs that have competitive wages, some job security and retirement," he said.
Comair and the union avoided a near-breakdown in negotiations last month, two days before the original Dec. 30 deadline that the airline had set for imposing concessions. The two sides agreed to resume negotiations this month with help from a private mediator. Final talks are scheduled Tuesday through Thursday this week in Washington, D.C.
An airline analyst said Comair must have concessions to be competitive.
"Some - if not all - of their business will go to somebody else, and there are a number of regional airlines out there hungry for more business," said Ray Neidl, an analyst with Calyon Securities Inc.
Atlanta-based Delta is trying to get costs down as much as possible because it is intent on getting out of bankruptcy by April, Neidl said. Delta, along with Comair, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2005. Since then, Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways Group Inc. has made a hostile bid to buy Delta.
Comair, based in Erlanger, Ky., near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, is seeking $70 million in savings as it tries to emerge from bankruptcy along with Delta.
The airline previously had an agreement with its pilots for $17.3 million in annual cuts over the next four years. But that was contingent on Comair getting a certain level of savings from its flight attendants and mechanics union.
Because the flight attendants approved a deal last month to cut annual costs by $7.9 million, $1 million less than originally required, the airline had to negotiate new deals with the machinists and pilots. The machinists agreed to a modified deal, but the pilots did not.
Comair has 795 flights daily to about 100 cities in North America.
On the Net:
Air Line Pilots Association: http://www.alpa.org
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