New pilots’ strike threatens major airlines

Tens of thousands of Swedish airline passengers face being grounded on Wednesday after talks to avert a pilots’ strike broke down.

Some 2,000 pilots on Swedish domestic flights will not turn up to work, causing travel chaos for around 23,000 passengers. The strike has been called by the Swedish Airline Pilots’ Association (Svensk Pilotförening -SPF), and will start at 5am.

The pilots are striking over the decision by some airlines to use pilots from agencies instead of employing them directly.

The strike is primarily aimed at four small regional airlines, but now pilots on domestic services at SAS and at Malmö Aviation have been called out in secondary action. Pilots at these two airlines will withdraw their labour for eight hours until 1pm.

Pilots working for the four small airlines at the centre of the dispute – Avia Express, Avitrans Nordic, Golden Air and Svenska Direktflyg – will strike for three days. This will principally affect passengers on Skyways and Sverigeflyg, which charter planes from some of the other airlines.

In total, 230 departures will be cancelled if the strike goes ahead.

Malmö Aviation will be forced to call off 30 flights, affecting about 2,500 passengers. Delays and cancellations will be likely even after the strike officially ends at 1pm, the airline said on Tuesday.

Union chairman Gunnar Mandahl said the main point of contention was new staffing policies at the airlines:

“Avia Express is making its 80 pilots redundant on 17th July and wants to bring in external pilots. The employer’s idea it that they will create their own company, which would mean much worse conditions for the pilots who are brought in.”

The dispute follows a three day strike by pilots at the smaller airlines last week.

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‘We agree to disagree’: Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

By lunchtime on Friday, talks between the Scandinavian airline SAS and unions representing striking pilots were still stuck on "difficult issues".

'We agree to disagree': Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

“We agree that we disagree,” Roger Klokset, from the Norwegian pilots’ union, said at lunchtime outside the headquarters of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise in Stockholm, where talks are taking place. “We are still working to find a solution, and so long as there is still some point in continuing negotiations, we will do that.” 

Mats Ruland, a mediator for the Norwegian government, said that there were “still several difficult issues which need to be solved”. 

At 1pm on Friday, the two sides took a short break from the talks for lunch, after starting at 9am. On Thursday, they negotiated for 15 hours, breaking off at 1am on Friday morning. 

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on the SAS plane strike?

Marianne Hernæs, SAS’s negotiator on Friday told journalists she was tired after sitting at the negotiating table long into the night. 

“We need to find a model where we can meet in the middle and which can ensure that we pull in the income that we are dependent on,” she said. 

Klokset said that there was “a good atmosphere” in the talks, and that the unions were sticking together to represent their members.

“I think we’ve been extremely flexible so far. It’s ‘out of this world’,’ said Henrik Thyregod, with the Danish pilots’ union. 

“This could have been solved back in December if SAS had not made unreasonable demands on the pilots,” Klokset added. 

The strike, which is now in its 12th day, has cost SAS up to 130m kronor a day, with 2,550 flights cancelled by Thursday, affecting 270,000 passengers.