Northwest Airlines is expected to decide early next year whether to equip its Memphis, Tennessee-based Northwest Airlink subsidiary, Express Airlines I, with regional jets, according to industry sources.

The matter was discussed at the US major's recent board meeting, but a decision was put off until after 31 December. Helping the decision along is a provision in the new contract with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents Northwest's 6,100 mainline pilots, that clarifies the issue.

The new scope clause ties the future acquisition of RJs to the number of narrowbodied aircraft in the mainline fleet. The pilots agreed to allow Northwest Airlink affiliates Express Airlines I and Mesaba Airlines to acquire up to 30 50-seat regional jets (either Canadair Regional Jets or Embraer RJ-145s) as long as Northwest operates 332 narrowbodied airliners. If the number of narrowbodies falls below or rises above the 332 baseline, the number of permissible regional jets is adjusted on a one-for-one basis.

The agreement incorporates the 18 69-seat British Aerospace Avro RJ85s that Mesaba is operating, and the 18 RJ85s that will be phased into service between January 1999 and August 2000. The previous pilots contract allowed Mesaba to operate regional jets with fewer than 70 seats. This provision was a sore point for the mainline flightdeck personnel. Mesaba is operating the jets under long-term operating leases from Northwest Aircraft, the Northwest Airlines unit which is providing sublease financing.

The new pilots' contract now allows Northwest to revive plans for larger aircraft for Express Airlines I, which now operates 36 30-seat Saab 340s, and is phasing out its 10 remaining 19-seat BAe Jetstream 31s.

Source: Flight International