Pay cuts scare off AUA pilots

Dozens of pilots have left Austrian Airlines (AUA) in the past weeks, according to the loss-making carrier’s works committee.

Staff representatives said 80 pilots and 170 stewards and stewardesses decided to quit in the recent weeks due to the upcoming contract reform. AUA bosses plan to introduce a new form of contract in July. The cost reduction procedure includes a 25 per cent cut of cabin crew’s incomes.

AUA’s executive board rejected an austerity concept presented by the pilots’ council over an alleged lack of substantial effects a few weeks ago. Bosses decided to press on with the contract reform after failing to agree about details with unionists – who now consider calling on the High Court. The labour union wants judges to investigate whether the board’s plans breach firm-internal regulations.

A spokesman for the Vienna-based airline – which suffered a loss of almost 60 million Euros in 2011 despite climbing passenger figures – refused to confirm that 80 pilots and 170 cabin crew members left the company. He expressed hopes to keep the number of departures as low as possible – and promised that passengers would not be affected by the labour conflict.

Four flights had to be cancelled last Friday when the works council invited employees to a summit at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE). Now business newspapers are speculating how many pilots might report themselves as unfit to fly in the coming weeks. Such measures would be widely considered as signs of a revolt against AUA’s financial strategy.

Works committee leaders condemned the board’s claims that the number of sick pilots rose in the past weeks. They rejected accusations that the unfit to fly notifications had to do with the salary negotiations. AUA employs around 600 pilots. Many of them are reportedly planning to join one of the Arabian region’s quickly growing aviation enterprises such as Etihad Airways and Emirates.

Etihad Airways decided to increase its interest in AUA rival Air Berlin from just three to almost 30 per cent earlier this year. This move might have secured the debt-stricken budget carrier’s existence. Air Berlin had to digest losses of 272 million Euros last year.

The company founded by Joachim Hunold is currently headed by former Deutsche Bahn (DB) chief Hartmut Mehdorn – who recently warned that all sections of Air Berlin must prepare for cutbacks. Mehdorn underlined that Air Berlin’s Austrian affiliate FlyNiki would not be spared from spending less.

Reports have it that FlyNiki wants to approach DO&CO to discuss a reduction of prices. The airline and the Viennese catering specialist might agree on an earlier-than-planned extension of their partnership at the same time.

AUA and FlyNiki hope that the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) slash the federal ticket tax in the foreseeable future. FlyNiki CEO Christian Lesjak said the levy would cost his carrier 20 million Euros this year.