Pilots try to stop pension action



Pilots try to stop pension action

PITTSBURGH (Tribune-Review) - US Airways pilots'' union plans to file a formal objection in bankruptcy court over the airline''s request to terminate the pension plan covering nearly 8,000 pilots, retirees and other beneficiaries, the union said Wednesday.
If the request is granted, US Airways would terminate the plan on March 31. A hearing scheduled Feb. 20 in federal bankruptcy court in Alexandria, Va., is expected to take up the matter.
The Air Line Pilots Association will file its objection by Feb. 13, spokesman Roy Freundlich said. The union also is filing a labor grievance today, contending that the airline is obligated to pay the pilot plan benefits whether or not the plan gets terminated.
US Airways management maintains the bankrupt airline does not have enough money to keep funding the pilots'' pension.
As currently structured, the defined-benefit pension plan requires the carrier to contribute about $2 billion into it over the next seven years. A proposal to stretch those payments over 30 years was rejected by the government.
So, management on Jan. 30 asked the court and the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. to terminate the pilot pension plan. The agency then would assume the unfunded pension liabilities, paying retired pilots 65 or older up to $42,955 a year.
But the rub, say US Airways pilots, is that they are required to retire at age 60. So, from ages 60 through 64, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. pays significantly less. At age 60, retirees would get up to $28,585 from the agency, for instance, and at age 62, they''d get $34,742.
Furthermore, pilots dispute US Airways'' claim that the Air Line Pilots Association had agreed to a substitute, defined contribution plan. Such a plan assures how much the corporate sponsor pays in — versus assuring how much a retiree draws out, as in a defined benefit plan.
The (union) has not agreed to terminate the (defined-benefit) plan nor to the implementation of a defined contribution plan, said union leaders in a message to members yesterday.
Separately, US Airways reported air traffic statistics for January showing it carried fewer passengers but partly compensated for the drop by decreasing flights.
The airline flew more than 16 percent fewer passengers last month (2.90 million) than in January 2002 (3.47 million). Revenue passenger miles, or aggregate miles flown, fell 9.4 percent to less than 2.59 billion miles.
But US Airways also had shrunk its schedule. Available seat miles, or aggregate miles times seats, dropped 18 percent.
That''s why the airline''s load factor improved to 62.2 percent last month from 60.1 percent the year earlier. Load factor, or percentage of seats filled, is an airline industry measure of profitability.

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