MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Pilots are suing Mesaba Airlines in a federal court for failing to bargain in good faith, a violation of the Railway Labor Act, which governs collective bargaining in the airline industry.

The Air Line Pilots Association's lawsuit accuses Mesaba of engaging in practices that were designed to draw out negotiations for more than two years.

The pilots' contract with Mesaba was amendable in June 2002. A federal mediator joined the talks last summer, but the sides have not yet exchanged salary offers, spokesman Kris Pierson said Tuesday.

Mesaba employs about 860 pilots.

Captain Tom Wychor, chairman of the Mesaba pilots' ALPA unit, said management has continuously stalled, created unnecessary obstacles and thwarted progress at the bargaining table.

The union said Mesaba has failed to respond to ALPA proposals or offer timely proposals of its own, has taken erratic and inconsistent bargaining positions and has offered substandard and regressive bargaining proposals.

Mesaba, in a prepared statement Tuesday, denied the allegations.

``We have conducted good faith negotiations at every step of the process against the backdrop of the most difficult period in the industry's history. Our negotiations have been lengthy and complex, as is generally the case in our industry, and both sides have represented themselves vigorously,'' the Minneapolis-based carrier said.

The union also alleges that management has tried to subvert ALPA's representational rights by circumventing ALPA and calling on individual pilots to meet with managers to discuss contract negotiations.

``We've demonstrated our professionalism both as airline pilots and union members throughout these protracted negotiations, and we are committed to attaining a new contract that reflects our considerable contributions to the success of our airline,'' Wychor said.

Mesaba Pilots have been working under a seven-year concessionary contract which was signed in 1996 and gave the airline the flexibility it needed to grow and prosper, Wychor said.

Mesaba remains in a healthy financial position, he said. The company reported net earnings of $4.3 million for the last fiscal year, which ended March 31, 2003.

Mesaba, one of the largest regional carriers in the United States, operates connecting flights for Northwest Airlines, serving 106 cities as a Northwest Airlink partner.