updated 9/30/2005 2:18:56 PM ET 2005-09-30T18:18:56

Northwest Airlines Corp. workers could be facing a late-November deadline for pay cuts, the head of the bankrupt carrier's pilot union said on Thursday.

Mark McClain, who runs the Northwest unit of the Air Line Pilots Association, said he expects Northwest to file motions in bankruptcy court next week requesting permanent changes to the pilot's contract. He said the airline presented its proposals to pilots Tuesday and that pilots are assembling their response.

If they don't make a deal, Northwest can ask the bankruptcy court judge to approve the terms it wants for workers.

Northwest, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14, has been seeking $1.4 billion in concessions from its workers. On-again, off-again talks have yielded only a preliminary deal with pilots and a strike by mechanics. Eagan-based Northwest, the nation's No. 4 carrier, has imposed the terms it wanted on replacement mechanics and has said it doesn't expect to seek more changes for them.

The expected motions from Northwest could lead to a late-November deadline for a deal, McClain said. That would include about two weeks for motions and then a 30-day countdown toward the time when the judge could approve a new contract, he said.

"Thirty days is a very short period of time," McClain said. Northwest has been seeking cuts since early 2003, although pilots agreed to preliminary concessions last fall.

McClain said pilots will have to sacrifice to keep Northwest flying. But on the key issue of who flies some of Northwest's mid-sized jets, an agreement could be elusive. The pilots contract says that all planes with 70 or more seats must be flown by Northwest pilots, while Northwest has long sought to give more of that flying to its regional carriers, where pilots earn less.

"I don't see how we go there," McClain said. He said the union is open to discussing lower pay for flying smaller jets, but they would still have to be Northwest pilots.

"We're not just going to walk away from our job protections," he said.

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