HEBRON, Ky. (AP) _ Comair expects to resume service by the Fourth of July holiday now that the regional airline's pilots have ratified a new contract that ended a costly, three-month strike.
The walkout began March 26 and completely grounded Comair, costing its parent company, Delta Air Lines, as much as $2 million a day.
Pilots are returning to work Sunday, and the airline plans to resume limited service July 2.
``Our strike is over. We are going back to work. We look forward to returning to our cockpits,'' Capt. J.C. Lawson, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said Friday after the union ratified the contract 733-408.
Comair had been the nation's second-largest regional airline behind American Eagle, serving 95 cities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
Comair will resume operation in phases, starting with 10 planes reaching 26 cities, Comair President Randy Rademacher said. He expects to have 50 planes flying by the end of July, and to be back in most of its markets by December.
Comair and the pilots' union reached a tentative agreement June 14 after three days of talks with federal mediators. The five-year contract gives pilots a company-paid retirement plan and the best pay in the regional airline industry.
Rademacher declined to say how much the contract will cost the airline. Delta had put the cost of the strike at $1.5 million to $2 million a day in lost revenue and expenses.
Before the strike, Comair had more than 1,300 pilots and a fleet of 119 planes. About 1,200 pilots are scheduled to return to work Sunday and begin training, but Rademacher said it could take until the end of 2002 to rebuild Comair's fleet from its current 82 planes.
Michael Boyd of The Boyd Group, a Colorado-based industry consultant, predicted a full recovery.
``Comair has always been a well-run airline, arguably one of the best-managed in the country,'' Boyd said. ``I don't think there's going to be any problem getting back on its feet.''
Duty time was a pivotal issue in contract talks. Pilots had complained they were required to be on duty as much as 370 hours a month to log 84 to 92 hours in the air.
Capt. Max Roberts said the new contract eventually will reduce a pilot's time away from home, but he could not say how much.
``It's going to take some time to implement that,'' Roberts said. ``The company wants to get up and running as expeditiously as possible, and we're committed to helping them do that.''
According to a contract summary released by the union, pay for first-year pilots increases from $16,000 to nearly $21,000, and pay for senior captains goes from about $66,000 to $85,000. The maximum duty day would be 14 1/2 hours, 30 minutes more than the union sought.