Northwest Airlines

( NWAC) may be going back to the bargaining table with its striking mechanics' union.

In a brief statement, the airline said negotiations with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association are "tentatively scheduled" to resume Thursday.

A union spokesman declined to confirm that fresh talks were in the works, however, saying AMFA was waiting for word from federal mediators.

About 4,400 workers represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association walked off the job Aug. 20 after the union and Northwest failed to reach a consensual agreement on a new contract and a 30-day cooling-off period mandated by federal law had expired.

Northwest had been seeking $176 million in annual concessions from the union as part of labor cost-cutting efforts designed to save $1.1 billion a year and avert a potential bankruptcy filing. The union said the airline had refused to budge from its demands for layoffs of about 53% of its mechanics and pay cuts of about 25% for the remaining workers.

Since the strike began, Northwest has permanently contracted out maintenance work at many domestic airports, as well as cleaning and custodial work that was performed by some AMFA members. It also hired about 1,500 temporary mechanics for its Detroit and Minneapolis hubs.

In a letter to the union Tuesday that was distributed to reporters, Northwest said it needs to begin hiring permanent replacement workers for the hubs by Sept. 13.

The company also said it's willing to try to reach a consensual agreement with the union and end the strike. But it also said skyrocketing fuel costs had changed its cost-cutting needs.

"Our last best offer which was presented to you on Aug. 18 was based on economic circumstances that no longer exist today," the letter states. "While the company was prepared to stand behind that offer to obtain a consensual agreement, unfortunately we are no longer able to do so."

A union spokesman declined to comment on the letter. Northwest shares fell 16 cents, or 4.5%, to $3.43.