Delta plans to furlough more than 1,900 pilots in October

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Pilots talk after exiting a Delta Airlines flight at the Ronald Reagan National Airport on July 22, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia.

Michael A. McCoy | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines will furlough 1,941 of its pilots in October unless it can reach a cost-cutting agreement with the employees’ labor union, the airline said Monday.

U.S. airlines that accepted $25 billion in federal aid are prohibited from cutting jobs through Sept. 30.

“We are six months into this pandemic and only 25% of our revenues have been recovered,” said John Laughter, Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations in a memo to pilots, which was seen by CNBC. Laughter said the airline doesn’t expect a quick turnaround in demand.

This summer, Delta warned 2,558 of its pilots about potential furloughs. The number was lowered by more than 1,800 pilots who took early retirement packages, but Laughter warned it is not enough to avoid the furloughs altogether.

“With approximately 11,200 active pilots still on the roster following the September 1 [voluntary early retirement] departures, we are simply overstaffed, and we are faced with an incredibly difficult decision,” he wrote. Laughter said letters would be going out this week to pilots hired on or after July 17, 2017.

Delta last month said remaining pilots could avoid furloughs altogether with a 15% cut to minimum pay.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Delta’s pilots, urged the company to come up with a solution. It previously proposed offering pilots voluntary time off with partial pay, but Delta and the union have so far failed to reach an agreement.

“While we should be talking about real solutions to save jobs, Delta’s most junior pilots are facing unnecessary career uncertainty when ALPA has offered countless voluntary options to management to prevent furloughs from occurring,” said union spokesman and Delta first officer Chris Riggins, in a statement. “It’s not too late for management to complete discussions at the bargaining table and help mitigate the need to furlough.

Laughter said the company will need about 9,450 pilots for summer 2021, “which we expect will be the peak flying for the next 12-18 months.”

Separately, Delta said its COO Gil West plans to retire at the end of September after 12 years at the Atlanta-based airline. West started shortly before Delta’s 2008 merger with Northwest and was named Delta’s COO in 2014.

West also led several ancillary businesses at Delta, including its aircraft maintenance unit, which the airline has expanded in recent years, Delta said in a news release on Monday.

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