After a winter in which the US airline labour picture was far from clear, the one certainty which has since emerged is that peace will come at a price.

A strike by Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) members against Delta Air Lines was averted with a five-year contract that will put Delta pilots even higher on the pay scale than those at United Airlines, whose contract set a record last year.

The Delta union had been headed for a late April strike as contract talks bogged down over pay and scope provisions. The tentative deal, retroactive to May 2000, would give Delta's 9,700 pilots pay rises of between 24% and 35% over the life of the contract, and would also give as much as 63% more by 2005 to the lower- paid cockpit crew of Delta's low-fare unit, Delta Express. The deal also saw Delta pilots win limits on regional jet flying, while Delta will be able to go ahead with an order for 70-seat jets.

Delta's motivation in settling stemmed in part from a desire to avoid further losses. The carrier acknowledged that it was already losing about $4 million in revenue a day to a separate, unrelated strike by ALPA members against Comair.

Comair - a Delta subsidiary that flies under the name Delta Connection - had cancelled flights until 20 May as their strike dragged on toward its second month. Comair pilots aim to set a record for regional jet pay rates with the contract they are now negotiating.

The pact between Northwest Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) - inked during a winter of strike forecasts, but no action - also suggests a high price tag for labour peace.

The pact, which will give some Northwest workers rises of 35% over four years, adds uncertainty to the labour situation at United. It is bargaining with its own mechanics, represented by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). United's management admits that the Northwest/AMFA settlement appears to be "somewhat higher than we had anticipated". Not only can the Northwest/AMFA deal encourage United's machinists to accelerate their contract demands, but AMFA is also now aiming at United.

Fresh from its victory at Northwest, the AMFA has filed to oust the IAM as the union for United's 16,000 mechanics. That would be a rerun of its victory over IAM two years ago at Northwest.

Source: Airline Business