AUA rules out Whitsun travel chaos

The current conflict with the works committee does not negatively affect Austrian Airlines’ (AUA) booking figures, according to a spokesman.

AUA announced yesterday (Tues) that reservations and passenger numbers were on the rise despite the continuing dispute with pilots and cabin crew. The works council is fighting the planned salary cut of 25 per cent. Bosses of AUA – which was acquired by Lufthansa in 2009 – decided to introduce a contract reform as of 1 July after failing to reach an agreement with employees’ representatives in lengthy discussions in the past months.

The AUA pilots’ committee approached the executive board yesterday to suggest a new round of talks. But top-tier managers of the ailing airline, which sustained a loss of around 60 million Euros last year, rejected the invitation. Now pilots, stewards and stewardesses plan to gather at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) on Friday to discuss how to proceed. Delays and cancellations cannot be ruled out due to the summit, business newspapers warn today.

The works council branded the executive board’s contract reform as an “assault” on the previously friendly communication climate between bosses and staff at AUA. Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz warned from considering AUA as a “protected area”. Franz wants AUA to lower its operative costs by 40 million Euros per year.

The Lufthansa head introduced Karsten Benz at AUA’s executive board to achieve this goal. Benz replaced Andreas Bierwirth who is, according to the press, accused of failure in carrying out the ordered cost reduction strategy. The AUA board now consists of Benz, Peter Malanik and board chief Jaan Albrecht.

AUA said yesterday there would not be mayhem at Austrian airports at the upcoming Whitsun weekend. The works committee warned that delays and worse problems for customers could not be ruled out. The council claimed that many pilots would not cover for sick colleagues due to the harsh austerity course at the carrier.

Twenty-four AUA connections had to be called off and hundreds of bookings changed last weekend when dozens of pilots reported themselves as unfit to fly in what is seen as a rebellion against the firm’s financial strategy. AUA currently employs approximately 600 pilots. The pilots’ council and unionists revealed last week that they planned to take the AUA board to court due to the disputed contract reform.

AUA is one of the most important business partners of VIA. The airport, which is managed by Flughafen Wien AG (FW), counted 21.1 million passengers last year, 7.2 per cent more than in 2010. Around 80 airlines are operating at VIA which is situated southeast of Vienna. Almost 51 per cent of flights are operated by AUA and its affiliates. Overall, Austria’s aerodromes recorded 25.8 million passengers in 2011. This is an increase of 5.6 per cent compared to the year before.