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Comair pilots approve pay-freeze

Comair Inc. pilots have agreed to a pay freeze that the airline says it needs to buy more jets and obtain new business.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Comair pilots have agreed to a pay freeze the regional airline says it needs to buy more jets and win new business.

Sixty-one percent of the pilots voted to accept the agreement, which amends the rest of the current contract with the Air Line Pilots Association and extends it a year into 2007, the union said Tuesday.

Union leaders said 87 percent of the 1,800 union-represented pilots participated in the telephone and Internet vote, which began on Feb. 20 and ended Tuesday morning.

Union officials have said the deal could save the company, a Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary, about $20 million over two-plus years. Comair officials declined comment.

The pilots agreed to give up a 4.5 percent pay raise this year, provided Comair gets its first new jet by June 22, pilots’ union spokesman Brian Moynihan said. The earliest the pay freeze would take effect is June 1, under the agreement.

Comair in January asked its pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions to consider accepting pay freezes under their current contracts, and through one-year extensions, so the airline can buy up to 35 new jets.

The pilots’ support is key for Comair. The airline is still negotiating with the Teamsters union, which represents the flight attendants. Comair mechanics rejected a new contract proposal two weeks ago, and no date has been set for resuming those negotiations.

Fred Buttrell, who took over as president in January, said Comair must improve customer service and flight reliability and hold the line on costs to compete against other regional airlines with lower operating costs.

Comair appreciates the pilots’ commitment and needs a similar commitment from the flight attendants to buy the new jets, company spokesman Nick Miller said.

Buttrell and other top company officials took a 10 percent pay cut starting this month. Nonunion employees had their pay frozen in December.

Comair pilots make $24,000 to $109,000 a year, making them the highest-paid among regional carriers such as Atlantic Southeast, Chautauqua and Mesa airlines. The regionals compete for contracts from major airlines to fly shorter routes and smaller jets, feeding passengers into the bigger airlines’ flight systems.

The pilots’ new agreement gives them some things they wanted, union officials said. Comair will restore 89 days of seniority to pilots who participated in a three-month strike against the company in 2001. The company also will give a one-time, 2 percent cost of living raise at the beginning of 2008 if a new contract hasn’t been reached by then.

Comair is trying to recover from a nationwide Christmas Day shutdown which resulted from the failure of a computer system it uses to schedule flight crews. Comair officials said the system collapsed after pre-holiday snowstorm caused numerous flight changes. The storm and related expenses cost Delta $20 million including $5 million attributable to the Comair shutdown.

Comair is based at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. It operates 1,140 daily flights and carries an average of 30,000 passengers daily to 116 cities in the United States, mainly east of the Mississippi River, and Canada and the Bahamas.