Norwegian hires rival crews as strike continues

Norwegian hires rival crews as strike continues
Services out of Stockholm's Arlanda airport were cancelled on Wednesday. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Budget Scandinavian carrier Norwegian has asked Small Planet Airlines to operate some of its flights in Europe after around 700 of the company’s pilots went on strike. But dozens of services from cities including Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen remain cancelled.
At 7.30am on Thursday the company’s website was reporting that more than 20 flights from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport had been scrapped, while several more were subject to severe delays.
Most domestic services in Sweden remained grounded including all flights to and from Malmö and Stockholm.
Meanwhile passengers travelling from the Swedish capital to other European destinations including Paris were sent text messages overnight to say that their flights would be operated by Small Planet Airlines, a budget carrier based in Lithuania and Poland.
All services out of Norway remained stopped.
The company said that it hoped that European services operating outside of Scandinavia would run as normal and said that routes between Scandinavia and the USA and Scandinavia and Thailand would remain unaffected.
On Wednesday night, Norwegian Air chief executive Bjørn Kjos warned that the pilot strike which grounded his entire Scandinavian fleet on Wednesday could only continue for a matter of weeks before putting the survival of the company at risk.
“There are countless examples of unions striking companies into bankruptcy,” he warned, as he gave his first press conference since the company’s pilots called a strike on Saturday, adding that company could “not afford to take losses indefinitely”. 
He estimated that the company had the financial firepower to withstand the strike at least into next week. 
“We'll probably survive next week too,” he said. “But it will hammer the company, and it will put it back and maybe lead to some routes being shelved.” 
Kjos warned that if the strike continues into next week it could mean the company repeating the annual loss it posted for 2014. 
“It is not easy to turn a large loss to a profit, so we could very quickly find that we are making a loss,” he said. 
Kjos said that the fact that around 35,000 passengers had already been affected by the strike was “extremely tragic”, adding that he did not mind upsetting unions by hiring new planes to replace his own grounded fleet if it meant fewer flights being cancelled. 
He said that the company could simply not afford to grant pilots the collective employment agreement they are demanding. 
“We must accept that the temperature is high,” he said. “They know perfectly well what is possible. As recently as last night we sent over a whole package of them and we have not heard a peep. They want to have control over all flights in and out of Scandinavia. This is of course impossible.” 
The head of the Norwegian Pilots’ Union, Halvor Vatnar, insisted that it was in fact the company which was refusing the reengage in negotiations. 
“After a clear invitation from our side for a meeting, we received a text late on Tuesday night that was virtually identical to the one we previously rejected,” he told NTB newswire on Wednesday afternoon. “We then sent a reply to the company early on Wednesday morning and we are still waiting for a response many hours later.” 
Passengers travelling on Thursday were advised to check online before travelling to the airport.
Those who texted to say that they would be flying on Small Planet Airlines carriers were told: "The departure time, flight number and booking reference is the same. If you choose not to travel, we can offer you a full refund by contacting our Contact Centre by phone. Norwegian apologizes for the inconvenience."
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