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Sun, Aug 21, 2005

Northwest Mechanics Strike, Day One

Reduced Flight Schedule Implemented

As the sun set on the first day of the mechanics strike at Northwest Airlines, the beleaguered carrier reassured its customers that all efforts were being made so their travel plans would be unaffected by what the company is calling a "union slowdown" - in spite of quietly reducing its scheduled service by approximately 17 percent.

Stepping back from statements made the day before that the carrier would be able to fly its regular summer schedule unaffected by the strike, on Saturday Northwest switched to its reduced-service fall schedule, several weeks earlier than usual. Carriers reduce the number of flights after the busy summer travel season, as passenger loads decrease.

There were also a few reports of cancelled flights, though no specifics were given by Northwest.

Andy Roberts, Vice President of Operations for the nation's fourth-largest carrier, stressed that all maintenance issues in the interim would be handled by replacement mechanics, and that a backlog of minor issues among Northwest's fleet - the oldest among domestic carriers - would be taken care of by the end of the weekend.

"We certainly don't expect delays to increase," Roberts said. "As we work through these maintenance write-ups, the operation should continue to improve."

Replacement workers in Detroit had a major maintenance job to handle, when a landing 757 blew out four tires on the runway. The airline stated that the cause was likely due to an issue with the aircraft's antiskid braking system that had nothing to do with the strike.

There have been relatively few reports of intentional damage as a result of the strike.  According to Hal Myers, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, a few tractors used to push planes back from the gates in Detroit had damage to their ignitions. Some jetways also had keys broken off in their locks.

"We didn't see anything done to the aircraft that would pose a safety threat," Myers said. He added that Northwest pilots have stated the airline appeared to be running smoothly, and that a 24-hour call center is being operated to handle pilot concerns.

Unlike the last strike at Northwest that resulted in the grounding of the airline for 20 days in 1998, this time pilots, flight attendants and other ground workers are staying on the job as the mechanics strike. A federal judge barred mechanics at Northwest regional carrier Mesaba Airlines from conducting a "sympathy strike."

Nevertheless, Steve MacFarlane, assistant national director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, maintained that Saturday's cancellations and reduced flight schedules may not be the worst issues facing Northwest while its strike continues.

"As airplanes break through the normal flight day, these airplanes need to get fixed. And if these guys can't fix them they get set off to the side," MacFarlane said. "We're confident that over a period of time it begins to snowball, and they're going to have a real problem maintaining their schedule."

"We never thought there was going to be an instantaneous effect from us walking off the job," MacFarlane added.

FMI: www.nwa.com, www.amfanatl.com

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