Deal brings raises of almost 13 percent in 2013 and lets airline get rid of 50-seat regional jets more quickly.
Pilots at Delta Air Lines approved a new contract Friday that will prompt a major shift in the way Delta uses smaller jets.
The deal is likely to become a benchmark for pilot talks at United Airlines, too, and will ripple through negotiations at other airlines. And because unhappy pilots can make it tougher to run an airline, Delta will benefit from having a settled contract that runs through the end of 2015.
The new contract will allow Delta to accelerate a shift toward bigger jets instead of smaller, money-losing 50-seat regional jets that connect passengers in smaller cities to Delta hubs. The shifts won't happen overnight, but rather over the next few years. In some cases Delta is expected to need to renegotiate airplane leases and agreements with the feeder airlines that it hires to fly under the Delta Connection name.
The new deal lets Delta get rid of 50-seat regional jets more quickly, while at the same time flying more 76-seat jets. Fifty-seaters have become money-losers due to higher fuel prices. Passengers generally prefer bigger jets, and Delta has long said it wants to reduce its use of 50-seat planes.
Meanwhile, pilots at major airlines try to limit the use of small jets because they don't like to see their airline's flying done on small planes flown at lower pay by pilots at feeder airlines. That's why the use of regional jets is one of the biggest issues airlines and pilots tussle over. It's a key sticking point in United's talks this week seeking a single contract to cover pilots who came from both United and Continental.
Negotiations between airlines and pilots are often difficult. But Delta and pilots struck a deal well in advance of the end of this year, when their previous contract had been due for changes.
Delta pilots will get raises of almost 13 percent at the beginning of next year, followed by 3 percent raises at the beginning of 2014 and 2015. The deal takes effect Sunday.
Delta has 10,170 pilots. The union said 62 percent of those who voted were in favor.
The airline issued a statement saying it was pleased that pilots approved the new contract. It "provides career growth opportunities and pay, scheduling and benefits improvements to pilots, while providing Delta with the ability to accelerate fleet enhancements which will be better for Delta customers and Delta people," the company said.
Shares of Atlanta-based Delta fell 21 cents, or almost 2 percent, to $10.95 on Friday.