Memo To US Air... THIS Is How You Do It!
Check off another item on the dwindling list of tasks needing
resolution in the merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest.
Late Monday, a federal arbitrator signed off on a plan to integrate
both pilot groups into a single seniority list, reports The Atlanta
Pilot seniority is often the most contentious issue facing any
airline merger -- just ask pilots at US Airways, who are still
bickering over the issue three years after the merger with America
West -- and there were some problems meeting the goal at Delta, as
As ANN reported, initial merger talks fell
apart in February after pilots at Delta and Northwest -- at that
time, each was represented by a separate branch of the Air Line
Pilots Association -- failed to reach terms on a deal to combine
seniority lists if the merger were to proceed. Both sides had
wanted at least tentative agreement on such terms... but they
failed to reach it.
That brought a temporary halt to merger proceedings... but Delta
later went ahead with a merger announcement on April 14, buoyed by
a last-minute deal reached with its own pilots on a new
merger-friendly contract. Northwest pilots came around to that
basic contract agreement later, though both sides agreed early on
to bring in a federal mediator to work out a combined seniority
The issues facing both pilot groups are similar to those which
have thwarted progress at US Airways. As a whole, the pilots at
Delta -- which, for all intents and purposes, bought out Northwest
-- have less time in the cockpit than their counterparts at the
Eagan, MN-based airline.
Delta's pilot workforce is also younger, as many of the
airline's most senior pilots opted to take early retirement ahead
of Delta's September 2005 bankruptcy filing. That means more Delta
pilots will be gaining seniority in the years ahead than those
coming from Northwest, which will further drag down lower-time
Northwest pilots' hopes of attaining left-seat status.
Decidedly unlike the ongoing battle at US Airways, however -- where high-time US Air pilots voted
out ALPA and created their own union, after a mediator
issued a proposed seniority list that favored low-time America West
pilots -- cockpit crews at Northwest seem to have agreed to take
one for the team, so to speak, in order to move forward.
Calling the arbitrator's new list "fair and equitable," Lee
Moak, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association unit at Delta,
called the agreement "a historic labor first and stands in stark
contrast to traditional airline merger timelines where labor issues
can take years to resolve, often at the expense of both labor and
the merged corporation.
"The Delta pilot group is now the largest pilot group in the
world, and just weeks after the merger closed, is operating under
one collective bargaining agreement and integrated under a single
seniority list," Moak added. As both sides had already agreed to
honor the arbitrator's decision, the new agreement went into effect
immediately for the combined airline's 12,000-strong pilot
So, how did the list shake out? For the moment, neither side has
provided many details... and a prepared statement from ALPA didn't
provide much insight.
Saying the list was based on a "ratioed status and category"
methodology, ALPA said pilots are "ratioed into the new list based
on a staffing formula and the aircraft flown by each pilot group
with a rational treatment for the minor attrition differences,"
including provisions to keep pilots at both airlines in the
cockpits of each carrier's respective widebody aircraft for the
next five years.