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NORTHWEST Strike doesn't ground airline



Published: Sat, August 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



No one expected an instant effect, a union official said.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Northwest Airlines jets roared into the sky over the heads of striking mechanics Saturday as the nation's fourth-largest carrier turned over its maintenance to replacement workers on Day 1 of the industry's first major walkout in seven years.

Northwest's union mechanics walked out rather than take pay cuts and layoffs that would reduce their ranks almost by half. They don't believe replacement workers will be able to maintain the fleet, the oldest among domestic airlines.

Saturday afternoon, Northwest was already facing at least one maintenance job: A jet landing in Detroit blew out four tires on the runway; no injuries were reported, and the airline said the cause was likely "an anti-skid braking issue" that had nothing to do with the strike.

Apology

Earlier Saturday, Northwest Vice President of Operations Andy Roberts apologized to travelers inconvenienced by what he described as a union slowdown Friday. He said the backlog of minor maintenance issues would be cleared up during the weekend.

"We certainly don't expect delays to increase," Roberts said. "As we work through these maintenance write-ups, the operation should continue to improve."

Northwest said there were few cancellations and most flights were on time, though the company declined to provide specifics. It switched to its fall schedule Saturday, a few weeks earlier than usual, lightening the schedule by about 17 percent.

"We never thought there was going to be an instantaneous effect from us walking off the job," said Steve MacFarlane, assistant national director for the mechanic's union.

"As airplanes break through the normal flight day, these airplanes need to get fixed. And if these guys can't fix them they get set off to the side," MacFarlane said. "We're confident that over a period of time it begins to snowball, and they're going to have a real problem maintaining their schedule."

Northwest's pilots said the airline appeared to be running smoothly, said Hal Myers, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association. The union is running an around-the-clock call-in center to answer pilot concerns about maintenance issues.




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