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Delta plans to recall 200 pilots

Airline is adding planes and more international service

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Delta Air Lines Inc., the largest U.S. carrier in bankruptcy, plans to recall 200 more pilots next year as it adds planes and international service.

The recalls are in addition to the 250 pilots brought back to work since June 2005, the Atlanta-based carrier said Wednesday in a statement. Delta also said it created a team for a "revamped pilot hiring process" if the recalls exhaust its furlough list.

Delta, which operates a hub at Salt Lake City International Airport, is rehiring pilots, flight attendants and maintenance workers under its plan to exit bankruptcy as a stand-alone carrier in the first half of 2007. US Airways Group Inc. made an $8.45 billion takeover bid for Delta on Nov. 15.

"Most airlines are finding their attempts to recall people are less fruitful than they would have expected," said Robert W. Mann, a consultant in Port Washington, N.Y., who has worked with both airlines and unions. Acceptance rates for recalls are "closer to 50 percent" than the usual 75 percent because carriers have cut pilots' pay, Mann said.

Delta now has 360 pilots on furlough, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said. Under union rules, pilots on furlough status keep the right to get their jobs back before the airline hires new workers.

"Delta pilots are key to our plan and the ongoing transformation of our international network," Chief Operating Officer Jim Whitehurst said in the statement. New overseas routes and plans to acquire 13 Boeing Co. 757 jets are prompting the recall, according to Delta, the third-largest U.S. airline.

International routes such as the 50 added by Delta under its recovery plan often require carriers to use more pilots and flight attendants. Delta's strategy calls for shifting more planes to overseas flying, where the airline doesn't face low-cost rivals.

"You start to eat up crews faster when you push out into the international realm," Mann said. In addition, next year Delta will be flying a full year of this expanded international presence instead of just half of this year.

Delta's chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association agreed to study the US Airways merger proposal, although union chief Lee Moak said in a letter to the 6,000 active pilots that the bid was "misguided."

Before Wednesday's announcement, Delta this year had recalled 900 maintenance workers, 1,200 flight attendants and 130 pilots. Delta had 51,000 employees as of Sept. 30.

Contributing: Mary Schlangenstein