Delta Air Lines plans to have all pilots back on duty by fall

In this file photo, Delta pilots arrive from Stuttgart in the International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, March 16, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
In this file photo, Delta pilots arrive from Stuttgart in the International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, March 16, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Delta Air Lines plans to have all of its pilots back at work this fall, as it looks toward a recovery in travel from steep drops in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delta last year put about 1,700 junior pilots on inactive status, and now plans to start bringing the first pilots back in March, according to the Air Line Pilots Association union.

The Atlanta-based airline previously said it would bring 400 pilots back to work by summer.

Delta has roughly 12,000 pilots. It had about 14,000 pilots before more than 1,800 took early retirement packages last year.

Jason Ambrosi, the Delta pilots union’s new chairman, called the company’s recent staffing decisions “positive signs” in a memo to pilots.

While the recall process starts this month, it will take time to train pilots on the specific aircraft type they’ll be flying in the airline’s flight schedule. Delta has restructured its fleet by retiring hundreds of older planes.

Delta said bringing all pilots back to active status by this fall will help it prepare for rebounding customer demand into 2022 and 2023.

The 1,700 pilots on inactive status had been on reduced pay as part of a labor deal to avoid furloughs, before passage of a second federal stimulus bill last year with funding for airlines to keep workers on their payroll. Delta then restored those pilots to full pay from December through March, even though they were on inactive status.

CEO Ed Bastian has said he hopes Delta will move back toward profitability in the second half of this year. But it’s expected to take years for air travel, including international and business trips, to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic.

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