Northwest Considers Taking Back About 30 Regional Jets From
Is it an economizing move in a rough aviation economy or a
strong-arm tactic aimed at reining in pilots who demand pay
In either case, it may
not happen just yet. Northwest Airlines says it's thinking about
putting off until the end of February a decision on taking
possession of some 30 Avro RJ85s currently on lease to Mesaba.
Coincidentally (or not), that decision comes as Mesaba, which
provides regional service for NWA, is deadlocked after
two-and-a-half years of contract talks with its pilots.
The 30 or so Avros account for about 40 percent of Mesaba's
annual income ($450 million in all). If Northwest goes through with
its threat to repossess the aircraft, the St. Paul Pioneer Press
reports Mesaba's fleet would be decimated as of June 30th.
Northwest says the 69-passenger RJ85s are too expensive to
operate, but won't give details. Mesaba pilots, however, tell a
different story. They make between $17,352 and $85,445 every year.
Sure, Northwest could add more seats to the Avros. They can carry
up to 85 passengers, but who'd fly them? Northwest's contract with
its own pilots bans Mesaba crews from flying anything with more
than... you guessed it... 69 seats.
"The Avro decision is clearly being used to influence our
negotiations," said Mesaba pilot and union spokesman Kris Pierson.
"However, the Mesaba pilots feel that the Avro could be flown for
free by pilots and still not be a cost-effective airplane. It has
two extra engines and higher maintenance costs."
Somewhere in the middle
of all this is Mesaba itself and company president John Spanjers.
"We remain very concerned about the impact of an early termination
decision," he said in a prepared statement. "We are continuing to
participate in Northwest's review (of the operation of the Avros)
and are also developing plans to address the potential permanent
removal of the RJ85 fleet from our operations."
And, of course, there are the passengers to consider. Pierson
says, if NWA takes the Avros out of service, there won't be enough
seats for the three million passengers who fly them every year.