Delta Air Lines and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) have locked legal horns over the use of Comair regional jets on the new Boston-Washington DC shuttle in what could be the opening shots of a much wider battle over pilot scope clauses.

ALPA is seeking a court injunction to block Comair operating three of Delta's eight daily frequencies on the shuttle service scheduled for launch on 1 June. The action comes just four months before the two sides are due to negotiate a new pilot contract, including the increasingly contentious issue of scope clause restrictions on the use of lower-cost regional jets.

Delta's labour agreement allows for the use of an unlimited number of regional jets providing they seat no more than 70 passengers.

The airline's partner, Comair, plans to employ a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ-100 on the route.

"There is nothing that prohibits us from doing this," says Delta, adding that it has slots for only five of the eight frequencies from Washington National Airport.

ALPA's Delta branch views this as the start of encroachment by lower-cost partner carriers because it comes just as Delta is finalising the acquisition of regional operator Atlantic Southeast Airlines. "The concern of Delta pilots is to protect jobs that have traditionally been Delta jobs," says the union.

The dispute is being watched closely because Delta's pilot contract is one of the first to come up for renewal in May 2000. A coalition of airports, regional aircraft manufacturers and consumer groups, Proposition RJ, has signalled its intention to lobby for scope clause restrictions to be lifted in the interests of competition.

ALPA says it is asking for input from its members on whether to push for tighter scope restrictions at Delta, which is regarded as one of the more liberal agreements.

Source: Flight International