Trans States Airlines

temporarily averted a pilots strike Friday, agreeing to a preliminary contract one hour before its union pilots had threatened to walk off the job.

But the agreement still awaits approval by the

Air Line Pilots Association's

executive council, which may vote either to present the proposed contract to the more than 500 Trans States Airlines pilots it represents or initiate a strike as early as Friday night. Pilots had initially threatened to strike at 4 p.m. EDT if an agreement was not reached with the airline.

Pilots of privately-held Trans States Airlines, a St. Louis-based regional carrier that operates more than 500 daily flights, have been in contract negotiations since June 1998. Earlier this month, they overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement reached hours before a Memorial Day weekend strike deadline. The pilots have been able to strike at any time since the federally sanctioned 30-day cooling off period expired on May 27 - though they have not yet exercised that right.

Trans States Airlines serves over 40 markets in the Midwest and Northeast, and provides connecting service for

Trans World Airlines

and

Delta Air Lines

.

Stacy Platone, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association, was unable to provide details on the latest contract proposal but remained optimistic. "No one wants a strike," she added.

Trans States pilots have complained about wages and benefits, which they claim are far below the industry standard. Platone said Trans States pilots now earn nearly 25% less than the industry average.