Third Airlink partner on deck?

 - January 29, 2007, 5:23 AM

Northwest Airlines will have to add a third regional partner if it wants more 50-seat jets for its Northwest Airlink division, according to an agreement with its pilots to limit the number of regional jets it leases to Pinnacle and Mesaba Airlines. More details surfaced last month of a new pilot union scope clause that allows a third partner to fly 40 more 50-seat jets, but essentially shuts out Mesaba from any 50-seat jet flying and limits Pinnacle to 139 jets total. As reported last month in AIN, the deal allows Northwest to assign Pinnacle another 10 fifty-seat CRJ200s and add six seats to 60 of its 44-seat CRJ440s. The scope clause still allows an unlimited number of 44-seat jets at the two existing regional affiliates, but continues to bar any Northwest Airlink partner from flying any airplane certified for more than 55 seats–for either Northwest or any other mainline code-share partner.

The pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, argued that if Northwest wanted wage concessions to help it increase its cash liquidity, the airline should stop buying airplanes to lease to its regional affiliates. Northwest leases to Pinnacle the Memphis-based regional’s 115 CRJs. The agreement to allow 40 more CRJ200s at a potential new partner gives Northwest the flexibility to absorb regional airplanes left idle by the collapse of another major airline such as US Airways.

Meanwhile, the Northwest pilots have agreed to talk about a new 70-seat jet pay scale at the mainline but adamantly oppose 70-seaters at any Airlink partner.

Consequently, Pinnacle Airlines v-p of marketing Phil Reed told AIN that his airline will aggressively seek relief to allow it to fly 70-seat jets with another major airline.

Last year Pinnacle became the subject of talk about a new deal with Northwest code-share partner Continental Airlines. Mesaba, meanwhile, continues to pursue new business for its Big Sky Airways subsidiary.