Delta Workers Face Uncertain Future
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Posted on Sun, Sep. 19, 2004
Delta Workers Face Uncertain Future
By Andrea Ahles, Star-Telegram Staff Writer
When Mike Pizzelanti lost his job as a pilot for Vanguard Airlines in June 2002, he didn't know what to do.
"I was devastated," the Grapevine resident said. "I thought, 'What am I going to fall back on?' "
After five months without a job, Pizzelanti opened his own business, a pet crematory in Euless called All Paws Go To Heaven. He said it was a tough choice for someone who loves flying but needed financial stability for his wife and 9-year-old daughter.
That may soon become a common dilemma facing hundreds of Delta Air Lines workers who will be laid off in coming weeks as the airline eliminates its hub operations at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
The Atlanta-based airline announced two weeks ago that it would lay off 900 local workers and offer transfers to 2,700 others as it cuts its daily flights out of D/FW to 21 from 254. It is unlikely that many of the affected Delta employees will find comparable work in the Metroplex's uncertain job market, experts say.
"Aviation is a mobile industry," said Tim Lahey, customer service manager at Avjobs.com, a Website that lists jobs in the aviation industry. "You may find a job in your local area, but generally speaking, most people will have to move for work."
The site has more than 4,000 jobs posted in its system, but most are on the East or West coasts, Lahey said. Only 150 job postings are for positions in Texas, he said.
The state's air transportation industry has steadily shed jobs since 9-11. Texas lost 12,700 jobs in the air transportation sector as of the end of last year. About 7,900 of those jobs were in the Fort Worth-Arlington area.
Limous Walker, a rapid response manager at Tarrant County's Workforce Solutions, said his agency will hold informational sessions this week to outline options for affected Delta employees. Workforce Solutions will also hold a job fair for displaced workers, set for January.
"The job skills, in many cases, can be used in another industry," Walker said. "For example, customer service for airlines can be customer service at another company."
Many airline workers used that idea to hedge their bets after job cuts at American Airlines accelerated last year.
Euless resident Gina Stevens-Growden decided to go back to school when she was furloughed Sept. 1 from her flight attendant job at Champion Air, a Minneapolis-based charter airline. Stevens-Growden, who also flew previously for Southwest Airlines and ASA, had been attending classes part time at the University of Texas at Arlington toward a bachelor's degree in psychology. She began taking classes full time after she lost her job.
Eventually, she said, she wants to go into private counseling so she and her husband, who works as a gate agent for Delta, do not have to rely on the uncertain airline industry.
"The airline industry is constantly in flux. I would like to have a little more stability in a profession," Stevens-Growden said. "Plus, we don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket."
Her husband has more than 20 years with Delta, so the couple are not overly concerned that he will lose his job when the airline reduces its D/FW schedule. But Stevens-Growden hopes her move into a new profession will make it easier for their family to deal with the ups and downs of the airline industry.
Some experts say Delta's flight cutbacks at D/FW will prompt other airlines to enter the local market, providing new opportunities for laid-off airline workers in North Texas.
"As other airlines increase their flights from D/FW and hire more people, I think that will mitigate some of the losses," said Rakesh Shankar, an economist at Economy.com.
American Airlines said last month that it is adding 70 daily flights to its D/FW operations. But it is unlikely that the Fort Worth carrier will hire any new workers because it has thousands of furloughed workers waiting to return to flight duty.
No other airlines have announced expansion plans at local airports. Southwest spokeswoman Melanie Jones said the Dallas-based carrier is "not in a hiring mode" and is filling most vacant positions from within the company.
Pizzelanti, who spent 16 years as a pilot, does not have any plans to return to the aviation industry because his pet cremation business has taken off.
"I do miss flying, of course, because you're always a pilot in your heart," Pizzelanti said. "But I have to look at being able to support my family, and I find my new business very rewarding."
IN THE KNOW
Local aviation workers
The number of local workers in the air transportation sector has declined since 2000.
SOURCE: Texas Workforce Commission