Northwest Airlines' pilots union directed negotiators to discuss with company management the possibility of freezing the pilots' defined benefit plan and starting a follow-on defined contribution plan, said Will Holman, spokesman for the Northwest division of the Air Line Pilots Association. He said the union's master executive council unanimously passed a resolution on Friday that calls for the talks; negotiators will report progress to union leadership at a regular quarterly meeting in Memphis March 15-18. "We are aware of the current vulnerability of defined benefit plans," Mr. Holman said, adding that the pilots are looking for ways to protect the security of their retirement benefits.
The Eagan, Minn.-based airline had total defined benefit assets of $4.9 billion as of Sept. 30, according to Pensions & Investments data, but the asset amount in the pilots plan was not available. Gary Martin, Northwest's assistant treasurer-cash and pension investments, did not return a call seeking comment by press time. Kurt Ebenhoch, Northwest spokesman, said the airline doesn't comment on labor or contract discussions.