Delta Air Lines Inc. has proposed cutting the number of hours pilots fly each month by 15 per cent to further reduce labour spending and help avoid involuntary layoffs as surging U.S. coronavirus cases quash travel demand.
The proposal offered to the Delta unit of the Air Line Pilots Association would remain in place for a year with hours flexing back up as demand returns, according to a memo Friday from the company. Delta aviators also have through July 19 to accept an existing offer for early retirement.
Air travel collapsed in March and April as the coronavirus pandemic spread, and a fledgling recovery in demand from consumers seeking a summer vacation stalled amid growing cases of the virus and travel restrictions imposed by some states. Delta already has reduced by at least half the number of flights it had planned to restart next month.
“Demand is still down about 80 per cent, and we don’t expect to see measurable improvement until the U.S. infection rates fall again,” said the memo from John Laughter, Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations. “We’ve pulled back some of the additional flying we had on the August schedule and don’t foresee adding much back through the remainder of the year.”
The union isn’t in a position “to even consider” Delta’s proposal until the possible implementation of a voluntary, partially paid leave proposal it made to the carrier in March is addressed, said Christopher Riggins, a union spokesman.
“Having met with the company just yesterday, we are surprised that Delta decided today to negotiate in public directly with our pilots,” Riggins said. “It is imperative during this process to maintain an environment that gives our negotiating committee the breathing room to work professionally and productively.”
The airline’s proposal was reported earlier by CNBC.
More than 17,000 Delta employees have elected to take early retirement or voluntary separation incentives, including 1,700 pilots so far, the airline said. About 45,000 have elected to accept unpaid leave of varying duration since March.
Delta leaders “are committed to preventing involuntary furloughs for as many, if not all, Delta people,” Laughter said. “We have clear line of sight to that result in flight operations and other divisions with a little creativity and cooperation.”
United Airlines Holdings Inc. has warned 36,000, or 45 per cent, of its U.S. workforce that they could be cut after Sept. 30, when prohibitions against job cuts that were linked to federal aid expire. American Airlines Group Inc. has issued the same warnings to 25,000, or 29 per cent of its domestic employees.