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Comair looks ahead after deal with pilots

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CINCINNATI — Regional airline Comair said that a tentative deal with its pilots on wage cuts and other concessions will produce the savings from employees needed to leave bankruptcy protection. Now the Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary must focus on what has to be done to secure its long-term survival.

"My personal hope is that last night's news truly signals the beginning of a new chapter for our company," Comair President Don Bornhorst said Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Bornhorst said he hoped that all groups could have a renewed focus on maintaining quality, serving customers and supporting each other so Comair can "compete aggressively in the marketplace."

Fifteen months after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, along with Delta, Comair reached a tentative agreement shortly after midnight Monday with the union representing its 1,500 pilots. The agreement still must be reviewed by union leaders and voted on by pilots, but Comair seems to have the final piece to complete its restructuring plan to save $70 million annually.

Analysts say the agreements with the pilots and other unions were vital to Comair's plan to emerge successfully from bankruptcy and to remain competitive.

"This removes uncertainty on the status of labor and allows management to put forward a more precise and certain proposal next time Delta flying goes out for contract," said Doug Abbey, a partner at the aviation consulting firm The Velocity Group.

Comair lost some of its regional business when Delta shifted the flying of 12 70-seat jets operated by Comair to St. George-based SkyWest in November. Delta also has said Comair would have to bid along with other regional airlines for operating up to 143 of Delta's regional jets, including as many as 43 70-seat jets, up to 50 50-seat jets and 50 new 76-seat jets that were not yet in service.

Comair, which is based near Cincinnati in Erlanger, Ky., said that it was not able to be as competitive in the bidding as it had hoped because it still lacked concessions from its pilots to complete its restructuring. The awarding of the remainder of the bids has not yet been announced.