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ATLANTA -- Delta Air Lines is warning more than 2,500 pilots of potential furloughs, as it seeks early retirements to cut back its workforce.

Atlanta-based Delta and its pilots union reached an agreement on an early retirement offer Friday.

About 7,900 pilots qualify for early retirement, but Delta senior vice president of flight operations John Laughter told them in a memo that "early retirements alone likely won't be enough to avoid pilot furloughs."

Airlines are reeling from a steep decline in air travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. Passenger traffic is still down roughly 80% and airlines expect it will take years to recover.

Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian told employees in a memo Friday that the airline is adding flights in July and August, but still "we expect our overall demand this summer to be only 25% of last summer's revenue, and we likely remain at least two years away from a return to normal."

The airline has told employees it may furlough workers if it doesn't get enough people signing up for buyouts and early retirements offered to most of its 90,000 employees.

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Laughter wrote in the memo to pilots that the company plans to send out notices to 2,558 of its roughly 14,000 pilots next week warning them of a possible furlough. Such federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notices are intended to give at least 60 days' notice of mass layoffs.

The move comes as the airline and its pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association, have been in negotiations on a new labor contract since before the covid-19 pandemic.

Laughter wrote: "We hope that we will not have to reduce jobs involuntarily" and said the company is prepared to continue discussions with the union on an agreement with a no-furlough commitment for two years that would come along with other cost cuts.


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