US Airways' pilots union yesterday agreed to consider a proposal that would allow the airline to add 70 regional jets to its fleet in exchange for job protection for its members.
The Arlington-based airline has been in talks with its pilots since last summer on adding the 35- to 50-seat passenger planes, which are smaller and less costly to operate than larger, fuel-guzzling jets. The airline said it needs the regional jets to help it drastically reduce costs.
While the airline had hoped to add more than 400 regional planes, yesterday's proposal was seen as a much-needed first step toward cutting costs. The airline lost nearly $2 billion last year, and next week it expects to report a first-quarter loss.
"It's imperative that US Airways get these 70 small seaters. They need a lot more small planes than big planes," said Merrill Lynch & Co. airline analyst Michael Linenberg.
The proposal, if approved, would double the airline's fleet of regional jets to 140. It could also create a regional jet subsidiary, Potomac Air.
The airline also agreed that half of the new pilots' jobs would be filled from the pool of 1,350 furloughed US Airways pilots if the planes are operated by US Airways or one of its wholly owned subsidiaries such as Allegheny or Piedmont airlines. If planes are operated as part of Potomac Air, all 70 of the positions would be filled by the furloughed pilots.
The proposal also called for the regional jet pilots to earn about $50,000 a year each. Pilots flying the main jets earn from $70,000 to more than $130,000 a year.
The union's decision was viewed as the first victory for the airline's new chief executive, David Siegel, who said in a statement he was "encouraged" by the development. "Now is the time for these important challenges facing our company to be addressed in a cooperative and timely manner," he said.
Union negotiators could vote on the proposal as early as next week. "It appears to represent an intermediate step for both sides to achieve their objectives," a union spokesman said.
Union sources said one of the most attractive provisions in the proposal would require US Airways' management and its pilots union to collaborate on monthly schedules. This would ensure that vacationing or off-duty pilots are not called in because of understaffed flights. That move could also reduce the number of flights the airline would be forced to cancel at the last minute for lack of a pilot or co-pilot.
Washington Post (Apr 13, 2002)