Delta Air Lines Inc. will furlough 1,941 pilots in October because it sees little chance of improvement in the bleak outlook for commercial flying over the next six months.

The carrier will have more pilots than it needs to fly a reduced schedule even after 1,806 voluntarily retire early, according to a company memo sent to aviators Monday. Delta also said the layoffs could be reduced or avoided if the company and the Air Line Pilots Association labor union can reach an agreement to cut costs as the coronavirus guts demand for flights.

“We are six months into this pandemic and only 25% of our revenues have been recovered,” John Laughter, senior vice president of flight operations, said in the memo. “Unfortunately, we see few catalysts over the next six months to meaningfully change this trajectory.”

Delta’s warning underscores the risk of thousands of layoffs at U.S. airlines after Sept. 30, when job protections linked to federal financial aid expire. Debate has stalled in Congress over a six-month extension of the government’s payroll support program, which would carry the same restrictions on workforce cuts. Travel demand remains less than a third of its level a year ago.

Union Response

The Air Line Pilots Association chapter at Delta said it was “extremely disappointed” with the decision, and that the loss of nearly 4,000 total pilots will leave the carrier in a poor position to increase flying when the industry does recover.

“It’s not too late for management to complete discussions at the bargaining table and help mitigate the need to furlough,” Chris Riggins, a union spokesman, said in a statement. “It’s not too late for them to take a constructive rather than a destructive approach to dealing with this unprecedented situation.”

The voluntary departures next month will leave Delta with about 11,200 active aviators, Laughter said. That’s still more than the 9,450 that the company expects to need for the summer of 2021 — the expected peak of travel demand over the next 12 to 18 months.

“It’s vitally important for Delta’s recovery that we reduce our size considering the prolonged and uncertain road ahead,” Laughter said in the memo.

In July, the airline proposed cutting the number of hours pilots fly each month by 15%.

The potential furloughs were reported earlier by CNBC.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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