SARS scare triggers pilot furloughs

Sunday, June 1, 2003

EAGAN, Minn. -- Northwest Airlines expects to furlough 150 more pilots because of cutbacks in Asia flights stemming from travelers' fears about SARS, the union representing its pilots said.

Although Northwest said Friday that no decision has been made about SARS-related layoffs in other work groups, the Eagan-based airline recently notified all of its unions that more jobs may be cut due to passenger fears about severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Analysts estimate that about 20 percent of Northwest's revenue comes from its trans-Pacific routes. The carrier serves Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Singapore and 10 other cities through its Tokyo hub.

The latest planned cuts, announced Friday on the Air Line Pilots Association hot line, would bring the number of Northwest pilot furloughs to 1,093 by January.

At the end of May, Northwest had 708 pilots on furlough and about 5,600 still flying. New cuts are planned each month through January.

Northwest, which has lost $1.6 billion and cut 17,000 jobs since the start of 2001, plans to idle some of its 16 747-200s, which are used for international flights and flights to Hawaii. Reasons for lost business include the slow economy, lagging business travel, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the SARS outbreak, airline spokesman Bill Mellon said.

Northwest is seeking nearly $1 billion in wage, work rule and benefit concessions from its workers to try to regain profitability.

SARS was first detected in Asia last fall. Since then, more than 8,000 people have been infected and more than 750 have died, the majority of them in China and Hong Kong.

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