MINNEAPOLIS – Northwest Airlines Corp. (NWA) and its pilots made a deal Wednesday that would ease pilots' workloads in an effort to stop the end-of-the-month cancellations that have plagued the airline.
Northwest was forced to cancel hundreds of flights at the ends of June and July because it couldn't find enough pilots. The airline had said more pilots than usual weren't showing up for work; pilots said they were overworked under a new, tougher schedule implemented under bankruptcy.
The agreement announced Wednesday would have to be ratified by the rank-and-file. That could happen as soon as Saturday, the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association said.
The tentative agreement would pay pilots time-and-a-half for flying hours over 80 in a month. Their old cap of 80 hours per month was raised to 90 hours under concessions the airline won in bankruptcy court.
The company also said it would pay union workers a bonus of up to 15 percent of their pay — up to $1,000 — if they have perfect attendance between Aug. 4 and Sept. 3.
The cancellations have marred Northwest's profitable emergence from Chapter 11 and angered passengers. Barring major weather problems, airlines generally complete 98 or 99 percent of their flights, but the staffing problems pushed Northwest's completion rate into the low 90s.
Cancellations spiked at the end of the month as pilots ran out of hours they were allowed to fly. Those limits reset at the end of each calendar month, so the problem threatened to resurface just ahead of the busy Labor Day weekend.
Pilots said the new overtime rule would discourage the airline from scheduling them above 80 hours. They had cited the new 90-hour maximum as an example of how their schedule became more grueling after Northwest's trip through Chapter 11.
Flight hours refer only to the time between when the plane pushes back from the gate to when it arrives at the gate at its destination, so pilots can spend as much twice that much time on tasks associated with the flight that don't count as flight hours.
In exchange for raising pay above 80 flying hours, Northwest said it won contract changes on work rules related to international flying and settled some outstanding grievances.
"This is an important part of our efforts to achieve operational reliability," Northwest President and Chief Executive Doug Steenland said in a prepared statement.
Dave Stevens, chairman of the Northwest branch of the union, called the agreement "a step in the right direction toward addressing important issues affecting our pilot group."
"It also serves as an excellent example of the success our airline can achieve when management and employees work together," he said.
Northwest, which emerged from bankruptcy protection May 31, reported Tuesday that it made a profit of $273 million during the April-June quarter before accounting boosts related to its reorganization.