Union to ask USAir pilots to cut hours Move intended to aid 300 furloughed

February 18, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

The union representing pilots for USAir Group Inc. will ask the airline's working members to reduce the number of hours they fly so that 300 of their furloughed colleagues can return to their jobs.

Pete Gauthier, chairman of USAir's Master Executive Council of the Airline Pilots Association, said yesterday that 5,200 pilots will be polled by mail to determine if they're willing to effectively cut their pay by working less.

If a majority agrees, the union will begin negotiations with USAir. Specific proposals on how many hours would be cut or for how long would not be worked out until then.

The roughly 300 pilots now furloughed otherwise have little chance of returning to USAir or being hired by other financially struggling airlines. After industry losses of more than $8 billion during the past three years, many U.S. airlines have begun laying off workers, cutting flights and reducing their fleets.

USAir pilots are paid by the hour and can work up to 85 hours a month. Pay for airline pilots ranges between $25,000 a year for a junior co-pilot flying smaller aircraft to $150,000 a year for senior captains on larger planes.

"If everyone worked a little less, we all could work," said Kimball Byron, a 37-year-old USAir pilot from Owings Mills who was laid off in January 1991.

Mr. Byron, who served 10 years in the Air Force before joining USAir, was transferred from North Carolina to Baltimore in August 1990. Three months later, his Air Force Reserve unit was activated and sent to Saudi Arabia. He was furloughed by USAir in January while he was still overseas.

"At the time, a few airlines were still hiring," he said. "But by summer, Pan Am was on the ropes and laying off. Everything went downhill from there."

Three carriers -- including Pan Am, Midway and Eastern -- have gone out of business during the past two years. And Continental, Trans World Airlines and America West are protected from creditors under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code.

Since 1990, Arlington-Va. based USAir, the biggest carrier operating at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, has laid off 7,000 employees, cut flights and won wage and benefit concessions from most of its 46,000 workers.

USAir spokesman David Shipley said yesterday there's little likelihood that pilots could be brought back without some special arrangement.

"To bring them back, you have to have growth," Mr. Shipley said. "Right now the airline industry has minimal growth.

"We would certainly look at it but it has to be something that's not going to cost the company any money."

The airline also would have to consider the same deal for other furloughed workers, including flight attendants, he said.

Last year, USAir pilots signed a four-year contract that included temporary pay reductions in exchange for profit sharing and stock options. The concessions are to expire in June, and pilots are due for a raise in September.

The reductions which USAir pilots will be asked to take are similar to those elsewhere in the industry. In January, Delta agreed to avert a planned furlough of 103 pilots by temporarily reducing the number of hours pilots fly.

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