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News Release

Release #02.MSA
September 27, 2002

ALPA Leaders Strongly Oppose Mesaba Holdings’ Formation of Big Sky Airlines as an Alter-Ego Carrier

MINNEAPOLIS --- Leaders of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) contacted Mesaba management Friday to voice their displeasure at the company’s intention to use the purchase of Big Sky Airlines as negotiating leverage during contract negotiations. Mesaba Airlines flies as a Northwest Airlink.

"The company promised this pilot group that Mesaba pilots would be used to grow the airline. Instead, our pilots are being laid off while management uses profits from our pilots’ hard work to purchase a new carrier," said Captain Tom Wychor, chairman of Mesaba Airlines ALPA unit. "This is clearly designed to hurt our current negotiations and is devastating employee morale."

The union leadership tried to set up a meeting with Mesaba management to discuss this issue, but the company has refused to meet.

Mesaba pilots have been in contract negotiations for sixteen months, and the pilot union leadership sees this latest purchase as management’s way of giving the pilot group a choice – an inadequate contract or no jobs.

"This is another horrible example of a company punishing its employees and forgetting that it was the employees who sacrificed and made the company profitable," said Captain Duane Woerth, ALPA President. "Taking jobs away from the Mesaba pilots after they agreed on a concessionary contract in ’96 to help Mesaba become profitable is just plain wrong."

Woerth went on to say, "This is a very dangerous trend in our industry and ALPA will use all appropriate means, including financial, legal, communications and other resources to end this whipsawing tactic."

Captain Wakefield Gordon, chairman of Pinnacle Airlines ALPA unit, another Northwest Airlink, said, "The Pinnacle pilots have been down this road and our management, like the Big Sky management, enticed us to enter a long term contract in exchange for growth. Now we are saddled with mediocre wages, parsimonious retirement and antiquated work rules. Northwest already has two first-class feeders, so the only possible reason for this transaction is to play one carrier against another."

The union leaders believe Mesaba CEO Paul Foley may use Big Sky to divert work from Mesaba as a form of leverage during contract negotiations. The Mesaba pilots have been working under a concessionary contract since 1996 and have been in negotiations for a new contract since June of 2001.

"This is a classic case of whipsawing one pilot group against another. Using another pilot group as leverage is not only an attack on Mesaba pilots, but also on the piloting profession," said Captain Mark McClain, chairman of Northwest Airlines ALPA unit. "Northwest pilots support Mesaba pilots and will help resist attempts at whipsawing pilot groups in the Northwest family."

The purchase of Big Sky is reminiscent of the Air Tran spinoff in ’93. In a similar situation, the company decided to expand by creating a separate company with profits earned by Mesaba. Management then used its resources on the growth of Air Tran and neglected Mesaba Aviation. It was not until the pilots took a concessionary agreement in ’96, that Mesaba began substantial and sustained growth and profitability.

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s oldest and largest pilot union, representing more than 66,000 pilots at 43 airlines in the U.S. and Canada, including 950 Mesaba Airlines pilots. Visit the ALPA Website at


Source: Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

ALPA CONTACT: Will Holman (612) 840-7749