Delta pilots seek solidarity

Mar. 4--Delta Air Lines pilots will travel to Amsterdam, Netherlands, next week to ask pilots from eight other airlines to refuse to fly extra flights if Delta's 6,500 pilots strike over pay and benefits cuts.

"Generally, agreements like this are to not fly any extra flights to move Delta passengers that would otherwise be stranded" by a strike, Ed Thiel, a Salt Lake City pilot and member of the union's executive council, said Friday.

Thiel, who also is chairman of the union's Salt Lake-based Council 81, is one of the pilots who will attend the meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Charles Swindells, vice chairman of the council, will also attend.

The pilots will confer with other members of the SkyTeam Pilots Association, a group of pilots who fly for airlines that maintain international code share agreements with Delta. Code sharing is a practice where flights operated by one airline are marketed as flights for other airlines.

SkyTeam pilots work for Air France, Alitalia, AeroMexico, CSA Czech Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta, Korean Air, KLM and Northwest Airlines.

Delta pilots say they won't fly if their contract is thrown out by a panel of arbitrators that will hold hearings starting March 13. The three-member panel has 45 days to issue its ruling. Negotiations between pilots and Delta are expected to continue at the same time.

The pilots' plan to ask for a "mutual assistance agreement" from pilots at the other airlines drew a terse response from Delta.

"The company is going to continue on its path, and that is to make every effort possible to reach a negotiated consensual agreement. That's the most important work that we can do. Our efforts are focused on saving this great airline," Delta spokesman Bruce Hicks said.

Delta operates its westernmost hub at Salt Lake City International Airport. About 560 pilots are stationed in Salt Lake. The airline, which filed for bankruptcy protection in September, has sought to reject the contract and impose more than $300 million in cuts on top of $1 billion in annual concessions it received from pilots in late 2004. The median wage for a Delta pilot is $140,000.

On Friday, the airline asked a bankruptcy court judge Friday to approve $3.9 million in payments to some of the airline's advisers. The professional fees to Delta's auditors and advisers include a request to pay more than $1.8 million to the consulting firm of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The request came as the Atlanta-based airline reported a $300 million loss in January and its pilots increased the amount of their offer as part of a second round of long-term concessions. Chief Executive Officer Gerald Grinstein, at a public event Friday, told reporters "Delta is cooked" and will not survive if the pilots strike.

On Monday, pilots will begin voting on whether to strike the airline. The ballot will close April 4.

The union said the mutual assistance agreement is one of several steps that Delta pilots will take to prepare for the possibility that their contract is voided. Thiel said pilots will request $10 million from the Air Line Pilots Association to run a strike center and other strike-related activities. The money would not be used to defray lost wages.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.