Delta to warn 2,558 pilots of possible furloughs, seeks early retirements

Delta Air Lines is warning more than 2,500 pilots of potential furloughs, as it seeks early retirements to cut back its workforce.

Atlanta-based Delta and its pilots union reached an agreement on an early retirement offer on June 26.

About 7,900 pilots qualify for early retirement, but Delta senior vice president of flight operations John Laughter wrote in a memo to pilots that “early retirements alone likely won’t be enough to avoid pilot furloughs.”

Airlines are reeling from a steep decline in air travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. Airline passenger traffic is still down roughly 80% and airlines expect it will take years to recover.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian told employees in a memo that the airline was adding flights in July and August, but still, “we expect our overall demand this summer to be only 25 percent of last summer’s revenue, and we likely remain at least two years away from a return to normal.”

The airline has told employees it may furlough workers if it doesn't get enough people signing up for buyouts and early retirements offered to most of its 90,000 employees.

Laughter wrote in the memo to pilots that the company planned to send out notices to 2,558 of its roughly 14,000 pilots the following week warning them of a possible furlough. Such WARN Act notices are intended to give at least 60 days’ notice of mass layoffs.

The total includes 816 pilots based in Atlanta, who received Georgia WARN notices.

The move comes as the airline and its pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), have been in negotiations on a new labor contract since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laughter wrote: “We hope that we will not have to reduce jobs involuntarily” and said the company is prepared to continue discussions with the union on an agreement with a no-furlough commitment for two years that would come along with other cost cuts.

“We look forward to working with ALPA on this next critical piece of our plan to protect as many — if not all — pilot jobs through the pandemic,” Laughter wrote in the memo.

The pilots union said the memo from Laughter was “received poorly” by pilots and said the union offered other savings and negotiated the early retirement program to offer flexibility, help save on training costs and mitigate the furloughs of pilots.

Delta previously said it would be overstaffed by 2,500 to 3,500 pilots in the third quarter of 2021.

The early retirement offer would allow pilots who qualify for early retirement to get 58 hours of pay per month for three years or until the pilot reaches age 65, along with health care coverage and flight benefits.

Pilots have until July 19 to apply for early retirements, and would leave the company by Jan. 1, 2022, on an exit schedule determined by the company.

Delta and other airlines that accepted billions of of dollars in federal relief funding from the CARES Act are barred from involuntary furloughs through Sept. 30.

Unions representing airline workers on Friday pushed for an extension of federal aid to airlines through March 2021 to keep aviation workers on payroll.

“Air travel remains a slight fraction of last year’s levels and demand will remain depressed well into next year,” says the letter to congressional leaders from unions for pilots, flight attendants, ground workers and and other airline employees. Without more federal aid, “Hundreds of thousands of workers will lose their jobs and health insurance — not only in aviation, but across our entire economy.”