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ATLANTA (AP) _ Pilots at Delta Air Lines ratified a new, five-year contract with the company Wednesday, making the pilots the highest-paid in the industry and removing the threat of a strike at the airline that flies the most passengers.

The contract was approved by 70 percent of Delta's nearly 9,800 pilots, the Air Line Pilots Association said. A majority was required for passage. More than 97 percent of the pilots voted.

``This agreement proves once again the collective bargaining process works for working families,'' said Charles S. Giambusso, chairman of the Delta pilots' ALPA unit.

The five-year contract, with back pay to May 2000, would provide raises of 24 percent to 39 percent and hikes of up to 63 percent at Delta Express, the carrier's lower-cost subsidiary based in Florida.

The contract gives pilots an 11 percent raise in the first year and 4.5 percent annual increases through 2005.

Under the new contract, a typical pilot's monthly pay would jump more than $1,500, based on the average pilot salary of about $158,500 in 2000.

Delta and the pilots struck the agreement April 22 after 19 months of negotiations, which included pilots declining to accept overtime _ disrupting hundreds of holiday flights _ and a federal court's injunction against ALPA.

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On the Net:

Delta Air Lines, http://www.delta.com

Delta ALPA site, http://www.dalpa.com

AMR Corp. http://www.aa.com

UAL Corp. http://www.united.com