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Omni Air to set new high for first officer pay: union

The US charter carrier Omni Air International may have set a new high-water mark for pilot pay, agreeing to a contract that will make its first-year first officers the highest-paid in the US industry, according to its pilots' union.

That union, the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224 (APA), says the deal, if ratified, could have broad implications in the US airline industry, serving as a precursor to broader wage growth.

"It sets a precedence," says Greg Unterseher, director of representation at APA, an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "[Omni] is a very small carrier. The more-capitalised carriers could easily raise well above this level."

"I think it is illustrative of where we are going," he adds.

Under the new agreement, Omni, which operates three Boeing 777s and nine Boeing 767s, will pay first-year first officers $113.02 per hour, up 61% from the currently rate of roughly $70 per hour, the APA says.

Omni first officers with 12 years of service could earn $201.17 per hour under the new rates.

"The agreement includes major increases in pay that make Omni’s starting first officer salaries the highest in the US airline industry," the union says. "Many Omni pilots operating under the agreement will see their pay more than double during its four-year term."

The deal calls for first-year captains to earn $169.23 per hour, a 54% bump from the current rate of $109.81 per hour. Captains with ten years of service could earn $297.72 per bour, the union says.

"I've never seen that in my career," Unterseher says of the gains. "The old captain [pay] scale became the first officer scale."

The deal also provides better benefits, including first-class travel for pilots deadheading on flights longer than three hours, says the union.

Tulsa-based Omni did not respond to a request for comment. The union says the airline agreed to the tentative deal on 28 February after more than two-and-a-half years of negotiations.

Omni's roughly 250 pilots will vote on whether to ratify the deal in late March, adds the APA.

Unterseher says the agreement was hard fought for by the union, adding that it partly reflects a tight pilot labour market.

Pilots are "a scare resource right now", he says. "To attract pilots, you are going to have to pay where the market is. There is no way around it."

Most US passenger airlines, including majors like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, signed new pilot contracts in recent years. Those deals, which included broad wage increases, become amendable starting in 2019.

But negotiations are currently underway at other airlines.

Frontier Airlines' pilots will picket outside Frontier's Denver headquarters on 7 March to protest their lack of a new contract, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). Frontier and the union have been negotiating for three years, ALPA says.

Meanwhile, the APA is in negotiations with freight carriers including Atlas Air, Polar Air World Cargo and Southern Air Cargo (all units of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings), and with ABX Air.

The APA also remains in negotiations with pilots at regional carriers Cape Air and Silver Airways.

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