The WARN notices are now coming quickly, with tens of thousands of employees potentially affected across the US aviation sector. As the airlines shrink in response to lower demand and economic recession the regional carriers are not immune from impact. Collective bargaining agreements built to protect the mainline pilots are now trickling down to the regional carriers.
Delta Air Lines, for example, may see its permitted fleet of larger regional jets reduced in the very near future. The carrier’s pilots negotiated a “flow down” provision that allows for furloughed mainline pilots to be placed at regional airlines the company contracts with, such as Endeavor or Compass.
Alas, as of April Compass no longer operates. That limits the displacement opportunities for the pilots and the contract accounts for such. It requires that Delta either find another regional willing to take the flow down or to cut the number of 71-76 seat regional jets in service.
The current scope clause limits Delta Connection to 450 regional jets, of which 223 can be in the largest segment of 71-76 seats. But with the flow down eliminated that number drops by 35 frames. Delta currently contracts for 116 CRJ-900s from Endeavor Air, 46 E175s from Republic Airways, and 31 CR9s/30 E75s from SkyWest Airlines that could potentially be trimmed to regain compliance.
But Delta is also aiming to avoid furloughs for pilots by implementing a 15% cut in minimum pay. The move would “spread the work of a smaller airline among all our pilots to preserve all jobs.” This would be on top of the 1,700 that already signed up for early retirement. The pilot group represents roughly 10% of the 17,000 total Delta employees that have taken an early-out at the company so far.
Moreover, Breeze seems keen to buy the operating certificate from Compass, further complicating the union situation.
Another potential challenge faces United Airlines and Delta with respect to the 76-seat aircraft. If enough pilots are furloughed the 76-seat aircraft must be converted to 70-seats. This is separate from the total number allowance affecting Delta as noted above. In May United executives indicated engineering work had begun to adjust the cabin interiors on its 76-seaters.
It is not clear if the company will reach the magic number of furloughs to trigger that work or not; much depends on the take rates for buyout packages being offered. Similarly, Delta’s WARN notices do not indicate that they’ll hit the magic number, but until the opt-out details are finalized it remains a possibility.
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