Atlanta Pilots at Delta Air Lines ratified a five-year contract Wednesday making them the highest-paid in the industry and removing the threat of a strike at the nation's most popular airline.
The contract was approved by 70 percent of Delta's roughly 9,800 pilots, the Air Line Pilots Assn. said. A majority was required for passage. More than 97 percent of the pilots voted.
Both sides had predicted that pilots would approve the contract despite some concerns about new scheduling rules, retirement benefits and a separate pay scale for pilots with Delta Express, the carrier's lower-cost subsidiary based in Florida.
"This agreement proves once again the collective bargaining process works for working families," said Charles Giambusso, chairman of the pilots' union.
The contract, retroactive to May 2000, provides raises of 24 percent to 39 percent and hikes of up to 63 percent at Delta Express.
The contract gives pilots an 11 percent raise in the first year and 4.5 percent annual hikes through 2005.
A typical pilot's monthly pay will jump more than $1,500, based on the average pilot salary of about $158,500 last year.
"This is an important milestone for Delta Air Lines," chairman and chief executive Leo Mullin said. "We have emerged from the long and sometimes difficult months of negotiations with a mutually beneficial agreement."
In a memo to employees, Mullin said Delta is optimistic about its long-term prospects, even as it struggles with a slump in demand by business travelers. Delta flies 120 million passengers a year, first among U.S. carriers.
Delta and the pilots reached the agreement April 22 after 19 months of negotiations, which included pilots declining to accept overtime disrupting hundreds of holiday flights and a federal court's injunction against the pilots' union.
Last week, Delta said it expects to lose $140 million to $160 million in the second quarter as the sagging economy and the Comair strike demolish profits. The Atlanta-based airline lost $133 million in the first quarter.