Northwest Airlines has presented its pilot union leaders with a plan to start a new subsidiary specifically to replace the airline’s aged Douglas DC-9s with 70- to 100-seat regional jets. Employee compensation would fall to levels common among regional airlines flying 50- and 70-seat RJs, meaning Northwest’s DC-9 pilots would earn about half what they earn now and lose pension and 401(k) benefits.
NTSB public hearings are scheduled to take place June 13 to 15 on the crash of a Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CL-600 regional jet in Jefferson City, Mo., on October 14 last year. The two crewmembers were killed. There were no passengers on board and no injuries on the ground. The flight was repositioning from Little Rock, Ark., to Minneapolis-St. Paul when it lost power in both engines at FL410.
Try as they might, regional airlines just can’t seem to avoid the glare of public scrutiny. The latest controversy, involving the fatal crash of a Pinnacle Airlines CRJ200 on October 14 last year, has once again forced the industry to defend its safety record. This time, however, the airlines can’t blame the hubbub on the rantings of politicians or ex-DOT Inspectors General.
Bankrupt Northwest Airlines has turned the financial screws on its existing Airlink partners by asking for bids from several regional airlines to fly RJs carrying up to 76 passenger seats.
Former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo’s latest crusade against the aerospace establishment has placed Bombardier, General Electric, Honeywell, Northwest Airlines, KGS Electronics and Parker Hannifin at the center of a lawsuit filed on behalf of the families of the crew who died in the crash of a Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CRJ200 on Oct. 14, 2004, outside Jefferson City, Mo.
Northwest Airlines has extended the deadline for regional partner Pinnacle Airlines to pay another $21.7 million in aircraft sublease security deposits to April 15, as the sides continue to negotiate the terms of “their future business relationship.” In September Northwest requested that Pinnacle pay the additional funds by March 1, but the Memphis-based regional has refused.
A tentative labor accord reached last month between Northwest Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association includes scope-clause language that would allow the airline to establish a new regional subsidiary, but only to fly airplanes certified to carry between 51 and 76 seats.
Pinnacle Airlines CEO Phil Trenary told a gathering of journalists at the RAA convention in Dallas in late May that he fully expects his airline to, in his words, “take a beating” once bankrupt major partner Northwest Airlines decides to seek revenue-sharing concessions. “Our time is very near,” said Trenary. “Will we take a beating? Yes. How much of one? We don’t know.”
If Northwest Airlines gets its way, regional affiliate Pinnacle Airlines will become one of the first competitors to Southwest and American Airlines at Dallas Love Field. But in an ironic twist, interest in flying from Love on the part of Northwest and JetBlue Airlines could become a barrier to repeal of the law that limits most commercial flights from the airport to a nine-state perimeter.
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