Flight controllers consider labour dispute

Austro Control works council chiefs have promised that air traffic will not be affected by assemblies today (Mon).

After having initially warned of potential disruptions, a spokesman said yesterday that the planned meetings of employees of the Austrian air traffic management authority – which suffered a loss of 1.54 million Euros in 2009 – will not have any negative effects on the punctuality of scheduled departures and landings at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) and the country’s other major aerodromes. He said employees would gather to debate how to react to recent decisions by the executive board of Austro Control.

Unionists said staff felt being disadvantaged by Austro Control considering the payment of bonuses for extraordinary efforts last summer. Employee representatives said many staff did overtime in the busiest travelling period of the year to ensure smooth operations and avoid delays. They explained that only 25 per cent of employees received previously arranged bonuses – and called the Austro Control board’s decision-making as “absurd and hostile towards top performances.” Labour union officials refused to reveal whether more work assemblies or strikes could follow if Austro Control bosses, who have been seeking people interested in flight controller traineeships, kept refusing to pay the bonuses to all staff.

The number of passengers on planes departing and arriving in Austria soared by 7.9 per cent from 2009 to 2010 when 24.5 million passengers were registered. VIA retained its leadership position. The aerodrome, located near Schwechat in Lower Austria and only a few kilometres from Vienna, recorded 19.68 million passengers. Salzburg Airport W. A. Mozart (SZG) was Austria’s second-busiest airport last year (1.6 million customers). The number of flights at airports in Austria improved by just 0.9 per cent from 2009 to 2010 (320,409 departures and arrivals). Graz Airport (GRZ) in Styria stayed in third place (990,000 passengers), followed by Linz Airport (LNZ; 692,000 passengers) and Klagenfurt Airport (KLU; 427,000 passengers).

Günther Ofner, who co-manages Flughafen Wien AG (FW) with Julian Jäger, said last week VIA may soon serve up to 30 million passengers a year. FW is listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange (WBAG). The company operates VIA. Vienna City Hall and the provincial Lower Austrian parliament are FW’s main shareholders. Both political institutions own an interest of 20 per cent. Ofner – who took office last month – said VIA could be strong enough to serve between 28 million and 30 million passengers per year in a few years’ time thanks to long-term infrastructure plans.

FW is currently feuding with local residents about the construction of a third runway. Ofner stressed last week that the new runway would not be put into operation before the 2020/2021 business year – even if experts on effects on the environment and the economy gave the go-ahead at the earliest possible date.

Meanwhile, FW’s most important business partner has officially given up hope to achieve a profit. Austrian Airlines (AUA), in which Germany’s Lufthansa holds a majority stake, said last week it would not be back in the black by the year-end. AUA announced it performed strongly in the third quarter of this year, but added that a loss would be made by the end of 2011.

More than one in two flights at VIA are operated by AUA. The company had 1.156 million passengers last month, up by 5.8 per cent on September 2010. The September 2011 figures followed news that AUA had served more passengers than ever before in the month of August. A passenger figure of 1.146 million meant an all-time record for the Viennese carrier founded in 1957.