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Northwest pares schedule as flights increase at Twin Cities airport
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
September 16, 2001

Northwest Airlines is joining other carriers with plans to dramatically cut its flight schedule in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks. The airline's president says Northwest will likely cut jobs.

Northwest President Doug Steenland says the airline has no choice but to make dramatic changes in response to a plunge in demand for air travel.

"We're reducing our flight operations by approximately 20 percent," he announced Saturday. "We're taking those steps as a result of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks and the resulting reduction in passenger demand and the new airport and airline security requirements that have been imposed on us. This 20-percent reduction should be completed by the first of October."

Steenland says Northwest is determining how many jobs it will cut as part of the dramatic flight schedule contraction. And he would not speculate on a layoff number.

Northwest's alliance partner, Continental Airlines, says it will also cut it schedule by 20 percent and Continental - a smaller airline than Northwest - says it will cut 12,000 jobs.

Steenland says he anticipates Northwest will make a specific lay off announcement soon. He also say it's unclear now what flights Northwest will cut.

"Everyone is trying to make their best judgment as to what the new demand world is going to look like. In essence we'll all looking at a new set of circumstances and we're in uncharted waters. But we need to act quickly because of the financial pressures that we're facing," he said.

When the stock market reopens Monday, most analysts expect airlines will be hit hard. This weekend's cost-cutting announcements are clearly being made now in hopes of heading off an airline stock sell off.

Airline Pilots Association spokesman Hal Meyers says the day after the terrorist attack, Northwest told leaders of its 6,500 members pilots union that there would be layoffs.

Meyers says ALPA does not know how many jobs will be cut and that it's difficult to estimate a number based on the 20-percent flight schedule reduction. He says Northwest pilots are concerned, but that the move to cut costs comes as no surprise.

"We're getting quite a few phone calls about it, but I think people understand that these are extremely unusual circumstances, so I think their response is pretty consistent with what the rest of the industry is doing," Meyers said.

Most airline industry observers expect weak demand for air travel will drive some airlines out of business. An effort to push a multi-billion-dollar aid package through the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives failed this weekend.

However the Bush administration is expected to meet with airline industry executives this week.

The head of Continental Airlines told the New York Times that without help from Washington, all of the airlines will be bankrupt by year's end.

Northwest President Doug Steenland isn't going that far, but he does say Friday's "no" vote will not mark the end of efforts to solicit help from Congress.

"The air transportation system is a critical element of our national economy and our national defense. The outcome of Tuesday's events clearly will challenge to the core, the viability of our air transport system and some form of federal assistance will be necessary to ensure the viability of that system for the long term," Steenland said.

Northwest made the schedule reduction announcement as it works to bring back service. The airline began flying after Tuesday's nationwide shut down of civil aviation Friday morning and hopes to be at 100 of its schedule by Monday.

About 20,000 of Northwest's 57,000 member worldwide work force is based in Minnesota.