Delta Air Lines pilots are urging the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to review the Delta-Aeroméxico transborder joint venture (JV), saying the increased US job and career opportunities promised by the alliance have failed to materialize.

When DOT granted antitrust immunity (ATI) to the carriers in 2016, it set the grant to expire every five years pending a comprehensive review of the JV’s merits. Delta and Aeroméxico have petitioned DOT to extend its ATI grant indefinitely, suggesting a confidential review process similar to the one granted to American Airlines and Qantas would suffice should DOT insist on holding period reviews.

Pilots at Atlanta-based Delta have become increasingly skeptical of the professional and career benefits offered by the carrier’s joint venture partnerships. On Aug. 16, the Delta Master Executive Council (MEC) of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) submitted a filing urging DOT to impose stricter conditions on Delta’s transatlantic JV with Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM, expressing “serious concerns” about how Delta divided service growth among crews under its immunized partnership with Virgin.

Like the Delta-Virgin partnership, the MEC believes the Aeroméxico JV is ripe for abuse, arguing in an Aug. 29 DOT filing that the arrangement between two carriers with “significantly disparate labor standards” is potentially vulnerable to labor arbitrage. 

The pilots also point to certain routes offered by the alliance—including London-Mexico City—that connect through the US but are operated entirely by Delta’s JV partners. “On such offerings, Delta is able to share in the economic benefits of all component flight segments without producing any corresponding benefit to US aviation job or career opportunities,” the MEC wrote Aug. 29.

The pilots say their concerns have been compounded by Delta’s repeated violations of its pilot contract requirements related to the alliance with Aeroméxico. The MEC has documented seven such violations; four that regard contractual limits placed on the share of Delta passenger seats that can be sold on Aeroméxico flight segments; and three that stem from Delta’s alleged failure to maintain minimum required levels of Delta flying between the US and Mexico.

Delta has defended the public benefits of its alliance with Aeroméxico, writing in an Aug. 15 DOT filing that the partnership has led to expanded service on 26 transborder routes, in addition to entirely new service on six routes. The carrier also said the JV has allowed the partnership to offer more transborder service than would otherwise be possible in light of the grounding of a substantial portion of Aeroméxico narrowbody fleet because of the ongoing Boeing 737 MAX issues.

“We hired approximately 4,000 pilots since 2013 and plan to hire thousands more during the next decade. We also have grown more than Aeroméxico since the start of the JV,” Delta spokesperson Lisa Hanna told ATW in an emailed statement.

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com