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15. 05. 12. - 16:20

Sickness surge causes AUA cancellations

Passengers are finally feeling the full impact of the emerging labour conflict at Austrian Airlines (AUA).

Twenty-four flights had to be cancelled and hundreds of bookings changed at the weekend. European connections and long-distance flights to destinations in the Arabian region and Asia were affected. The Viennese carrier was forced to act as several pilots reported themselves as being sick. AUA officials did not disclose how many employees were unfit to fly.

A spokesman for the company said further problems were unlikely. He claimed AUA would be able to cope with similar situations in the future. The AUA official explained that dozens of pilots were currently sitting various flight training courses. They would soon be available for full-time work, he said, adding that those Tyrolean Airways pilots who were doing short-time at the moment could work longer too.

The AUA board’s decision to change AUA employees’ contracts – a step which means that wages will drop by around 25 per cent – could be the root of the series of cancellations. The reform will come into effect on 1 July unless executive board and works council find an alternative solution in the coming weeks. The new contracts of pilots will be similar to the ones of pilots at Tyrolean Airways, an AUA Group affiliate.

AUA CEO Jaan Albrecht is confident about slashing AUA’s annual costs by 220 Euros by pressing on with the contract reform. Works committee leaders have vehemently denied that the cases of sickness had to do with the battle about salary cuts and unpaid additional working hours. Last weekend’s cancellations confronted AUA with extra costs of around 500 million Euros, according to unconfirmed reports published today (Tues).

AUA was acquired by German aviation industry giant Lufthansa in 2009. The Vienna-based carrier – which is headed by Albrecht since November 2011 – suffered a loss of one billion Euros in the past 10 years. AUA managed to increase its passenger number by 3.4 per cent from 2010 to 2011 when more than 11 million people booked AUA flights.

The firm decided to implement an increase of ticket prices only a few weeks ago. Tourism experts and business travelling analysts think that this move and the weekend’s occurrences could lead to a passenger decrease in the coming weeks. Research shows that more and more Austrian holidaymakers are booking their journeys at last minute to react to weather developments and prices – a trend budget carriers and domestic holiday destinations are benefiting from.

AUA’s key low-cost rival Air Berlin is in financial turmoil as well. But the Berlin-based company succeeds regarding customer figures. The carrier counted 35 million passengers in 2011. At the same time, Air Berlin had to digest losses of 272 million Euros. Air Berlin CEO Hartmut Mehdorn warned that all departments of Air Berlin must brace for cutbacks in the coming months. He made clear that staff at subsidiary company FlyNiki would be affected by the austerity initiative as well.

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