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United Airlines cutting 950 pilot jobs

June 23, 2008 8:32:05 PM PDT
There's more fallout from rising fuel prices for Chicago-based United Airlines.The company is cutting jobs for almost 1,000 pilots. Most of those jobs will be gone by the end of the summer.

Pilots are feeling it Monday, the impact of sweeping painful cuts at United Airlines.

The Elk Grove-based United announced Monday it will eliminate about 950 pilot jobs beginning at the end of the summer.

The nation's second-largest carrier intends to send furlough notices to about 1,450 pilots with the least seniority.

In a statement, United says, "As we reduce the size of our fleet and take actions companywide to enable United to compete in an environment of record fuel prices, we must take the difficult, but necessary step to reduce the number of people we have to run our business; and today, we notified our pilots about expected furloughs."

After years of agreeing to deep concessions when United was in bankruptcy, the Airline Pilots Association says the shrinkage can't be blamed entirely on oil prices, but rather, the lack of a business plan.

"For a lot of pilots and their families, it's a very disruptive and disheartening time. And it's unfortunate that the company's business plan or lack thereof has led to this," said Dave Kelly, APA.

The layoffs announced Monday are part of a downsizing plan announced a few weeks ago. United plans to ground 100 gas-guzzling planes over the next 18 months, about 22 percent of its aircraft fleet.

United is also cutting as many as 1,600 salaried and management jobs. Many of those job cuts will be at its large operations center in Elk Grove Township.

Also certain to be impacted are flight attendants, mechanics and other union positions. But those cuts have not been announced yet. Joe Schweiterman, aviation expert at DePaul University, says shrinking is the only option for United right now, but even this may not go far enough.

"The numbers here are staggering and this may not be the end yet. There's certainly flight attendant workforce issues. The price of oil remains strong, which may mean more management jobs. Clearly, Wall Street's making a statement it wants bold action and it means a smaller airline," said Schweiterman.

Schweiterman says to expect other airlines to make similar cuts, including Chicago's other O'Hare hub airline, American.

United pilots seemed reticent to comment on the situation for fear of their jobs. Even with seven years at United, one pilot said he feels vulnerable he could be cut.

But the APA says after making steep concessions during the bankruptcy years, these cuts are not being shared enough by management.

"I think the time has come for this airline's management to show leadership and to demonstrate that they're willing to share in the pain as much as the pilots and other employees," said Kelly.

Pilots at other airlines are anticipating cuts, too, indicated by a billboard on I-294 near O'Hare paid for by the union representing American Airlines' pilots. With more than 250,000 late and cancelled flights last year, pilots at American are also critical of their management.

United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy says the initial furlough notices will go out in mid-July and take effect in September. She says the cuts will continue into next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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