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Sun Country's Marty Davis Talks "Ultimate Shutdown" as Pilots Union Fights for Higher Wages

Sun Country cockpits may soon be empty as the airline's chairman talks of shuttering the company.

Sun Country cockpits may soon be empty as the airline's chairman talks of shuttering the company.

Call Sun Country Airlines Chairman Marty Davis the apocalypse's second horseman.

The Mendota Heights-based company chairman, whose family bought the carrier in 2011, is playing the same insolvency card used by predecessors.

This coming at a time when the airline's 245 pilots battle management in their attempt to ascend from the tarmac as the industry's lowest paid.

See also: Sun Country warns of shutdown, layoffs

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Back in 2008 with former Sun Country owner Tom Petters ensnared in a federal fraud investigation, the airline found itself in the throes of cash crunch.

Scrambling for its economic survival, John Fredericksen, Sun Country's general counsel, warned employees "there is a distinct possibility that the airline will be shut down and/or you will be furloughed."

Now Davis, whose family's Cambria Holdings bought the floundering airline in 2011, is saying the same thing.

The company has been locked in a five-year labor dispute with Air Line Pilots Association, International, the union that represents Sun Country pilots. In February, the battle reached an apex when pilots voted to authorize union leaders to call a strike if they couldn't reach a federally mediated contract agreement with management.

The two groups have been working with a federal mediator since May 2012.

In a recent email to local union head Brian Roseen, the airline's chairman raised the stakes, saying the company planned to downsize "for what will need to be its ultimate shutdown."

Sun Country pilots have long argued that they earn well below the industry average.

The numbers would seem to support their case.

According to Airline Pilot Central, a website that tracks what pilots earn, the top pay for a Sun Country pilot in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 is $127 per hour. In contrast, those at the top of the food chain captaining planes at Spirit Airlines, a main Sun Country competitor, earn $185 hourly.

The disparity is even greater when compared to industry peers at Southwest and Delta, which both pay their 737 captains well over $200 an hour.

News of financial hardship at Sun Country might not come as a big surprise to Twin Cities travelers.

The privately held airline, which operates scheduled and charter flights to 33 spots in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, reported a $4 million operating loss from the third quarter in 2013 to second quarter last year. This compared to a $17 million profit during the same period a year prior.

It's a unique business model that's being attempted. Sun Country isn't a major carrier like Delta, nor a low-cost one like Spirit. Its business strategy has long walked a fine line as a hybrid carrier, offering a user-friendly experience without high ticket prices.

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