Mesaba pilots avert strike |

Mesaba pilots avert strike

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s tourist industry received good news Sunday morning when pilots for Mesaba Airlines resolved their labor dispute, averting a strike and further flight cancellations that had affected hundreds of travelers.

The deal was reached Sunday after three days of intense negotiations between the Air Lines Pilots Association and Mesaba, which operates Northwest Airlink flights to Aspen from Minneapolis-St. Paul and Memphis, Tenn., for Northwest Airlines.

All flights to and from Aspen were canceled during negotiations Saturday. Approximately 500 passengers on eight flights were affected, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservation agency. Normal service resumed Sunday.

The talks, centered over pilots’ pay and benefits, stretched more than a day past Friday’s 10 p.m. strike deadline. Mesaba pilots contended they were below industry pay standards for regional carriers.

Despite the short-term inconvenience, Tomcich said tourism officials were jubilant a strike had been averted.

“I think we are all taking a huge collective sigh of relief,” he said. “A strike would have been very hurtful to our community. Mesaba runs the only jet service apart from United in and out of Aspen.”

Mesaba pilots threatened to strike over salary and benefits. Under their old contract, they earned anywhere from around $17,000 to about $85,000. Union leaders said more than half of the carrier’s pilots made less than $35,000 for full-time work, making Mesaba pilots among the lowest paid at regional carriers.

Mesaba had said it needed to keep its costs flat to continue flying for Northwest, which has another regional carrier, Pinnacle Airlines.

Tom Wychor, who heads the pilot association’s Mesaba unit, said the contract gains do not put the company at risk and substantially improve pilots’ work conditions.

”This is a very competitive agreement for the pilots and for the company,” he said. ”It’s a good agreement.”

Among Mesaba’s operations in 28 states and Canada, the airline runs Auro RJ-85 jet service to and from Aspen. It runs three trips daily to and from Minneapolis and one flight to and from Memphis every day except Sunday.

The jet has a capacity of 69 passengers and usually operates near capacity, according to Tomcich.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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