NWA plans to hire 250-350 pilots

  • Article by: LIZ FEDOR , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 24, 2007 - 11:28 PM

After a six-year drought, the airline will call back furloughed pilots, then hire new ones.

Northwest Airlines said Tuesday that it expects to hire 250 to 350 pilots within the next 12 months, representing the first pilot hires since 2001.

The carrier has struggled this summer with a pilot shortage that has caused flight cancellations.

"Once we have recalled all the eligible pilots from furlough, we will begin hiring new pilots," Northwest CEO Doug Steenland said Tuesday in a letter to employees.

Meanwhile, Steenland said, the carrier will further shrink its flight capacity in August. Northwest will cut domestic flights by 4 percent in August instead of the previously announced 3 percent.

That move is designed to trim the number of hours its pilots will have to fly.

During a seven-day period in late June, Northwest canceled more than 1,000 flights -- or 11.9 percent of its schedule -- partly because it lacked pilot crews.

"There just aren't enough pilots to fly the schedule," said Monty Montgomery, a spokesman for the Northwest pilots union.

Montgomery said Tuesday that union leaders are "encouraged" that Northwest is moving ahead with plans to recall furloughed pilots and hire new pilots. However, he said, "We wish it would have happened earlier when we told them that this problem was going to exist."

Northwest acknowledged that it had another spike in flight cancellations over the weekend. The carrier said that it dropped 51 flights from its schedule on Saturday and 58 on Sunday, and explained that 36 of those weekend flights were canceled because of planes out of service for maintenance.

FlightStats, a private company that tracks airline flights for consumers, reported on its website that Northwest canceled 72 flights Saturday and 76 flights Sunday, which amounted to more than 5 percent of Northwest's flight schedule.

The airline had a better record on Tuesday, when FlightStats reported that Northwest canceled 2.9 percent of its flights as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Typically, Northwest cancels less than 2 percent of its flights on days with normal weather conditions. Montgomery predicted that Northwest will have a higher than normal cancellation rate in late July, because pilots now on the workforce will reach monthly limits on flying hours near the end of the month.

Sick pilots

In June, Northwest management said that a high rate of sick calls from Northwest pilots contributed to cancellations.

On Monday, the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said that it "is not aware of any improper use of sick calls." Montgomery attributed the increase in sick calls to pilot fatigue, which he blamed on pilots working longer hours under a new concessionary contract.

Union leaders told pilots that abuse of sick leave "will likely not be tolerated by a management under extreme duress" to operate reliably.

Northwest, like other big airlines, cut pilot and other airline employee jobs after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In addition, Northwest reduced its flight capacity by 10 percent in bankruptcy and the pilots union said that more than 700 pilots remained on furlough a year ago.

Neither Northwest nor the union released precise figures Tuesday on how many pilots are likely to return from long-term furloughs.

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