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Delta Air Lines pilots voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if contract talks with the nation's third-largest carrier fail, their union said Monday.

Delta and its pilots have been negotiating a new contract for nearly 18 months, with the pilots increasingly frustrated by the pace of the talks.

The company and union have agreed to negotiate until Feb. 28, when they will ask the National Mediation Board to arbitrate any remaining disputes. If either side then rejected arbitration, which is considered likely, they would enter a 30-day cooling-off period.

The pilots then could strike April 1, barring intervention by President Bush, who expressed concern last week about possible work stoppages at Delta, Northwest, United and American and said he would "explore all options."

Meanwhile, the union representing Northwest Airlines mechanics, cleaners and custodians asked airline executives to return to the bargaining table Monday but told workers to continue strike preparations.

Northwest showed no sign of changing its position that it won't negotiate unless asked to do so by federal mediators.

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