The first week of strikes by pilots at Northwest Airlines and Air Canada have crippled the two carriers' operations. Estimates put the revenue losses in the two unconnected labour disputes at over $150 million by 5 September.

Northwest was the first to be hit when its 6,100 pilots went on strike on 29 August. All flights were cancelled until at least 8 September as the Air Line Pilots Association and the company's management prepared for "exploratory talks" to try to resolve a dispute which centres on issues of the alliance with Continental Airlines, job security and wages.

The USA's fourth largest airline has temporarily laid off over half of its workforce of 27,500, including flight attendants, mechanics and customer service workers.

Meanwhile, US President Bill Clinton has refused to order the pilots back to work for a 60-day cooling off period, or to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board under the Railway Labor Act - as he did last year to head off an American Airlines pilots' strike.

If the Administration does eventually act and no agreement is reached through the Emergency Board, the US Congress could enact special legislation to end the strike and impose settlement terms, as it has done before.

US transportation secretary Ronald Slater, however, told Northwest's regional airline partners, Mesaba and Express I, that they must restore service to 17 small communities without alternative air services. Slater says federal law prohibits the carriers from suspending air service below mandated levels without first filing a 90-day notice.

Other carriers continue to make arrangements to accommodate Northwest passengers, including Delta Air Lines, Great Lakes Aviation and Kiwi International.

Analyst Paine Webber Research estimates that Northwest's rivals were picking up large revenues by the seventh day of the strike.

Paine Webber says that by 6 September United will have earned $47 million in extra revenue and Delta $27 million. Rivals' income will have been boosted by $100 million overall, the analysts add.

A settlement with its pilots will not immediately end labour unrest at Northwest, however, because on 5 August the carrier's mechanics rejected the airline's latest contract offer and authorised their own strike over pay and conditions.

The 2,100 pilots at Air Canada walked out at midnight on 1 September after failing to agree to a new contract. It is the first pilot strike in the airline's 61-year history. The move has seen Air Canada's fleet of 161 aircraft grounded, as its 600 daily flights, which carry some 60,000 passengers, have been cancelled. One airline analyst estimates the strike is costing between C$10 million ($6.5 million) and C$13 million a day in lost revenue.

The airline's pilots earn between C$32,000 and C$200,000 a year, which they claim is 30-50% less than their US and European counterparts. In addition, the pilots want to reduce their flying time, which averages between 78h and 85h a month compared to the industry norm of 75-78h.

In an effort to avoid a strike, the pilots' union has reduced to 12% its original demand of a 20% pay rise over two years. Air Canada says that it cannot afford the increases and remain competitive. It is offering 9% over two years. Both sides say they are ready to resume negotiations, but no talks had been scheduled by 5 September.

Canadian Airlines International (CAI) is attempting to pick up the slack, but industry watchers say those efforts will be limited because CAI has been cutting back its domestic operations.

Source: Flight International