AUA under pressure as pilots quit

The number of pilots and stewardesses leaving Austrian Airlines (AUA) because of the upcoming pay cuts is on the rise.

The works council announced yesterday (Tues) that 110 pilots and 200 stewards and stewardesses quit in the past weeks. They did so to evade the enforced salary cuts, according to staff representatives. Final figures for how many AUA employees left the firm since the decision to carry out the latest austerity measures are expected for next week.

Staff have the chance to leave the company and receive financial compensations of varying amounts until Saturday. Those who decide to stay must work under contracts similar to those as in effect at Tyrolean Airways, a regional carrier which is part of the AUA Group, from July. This kind of contract’s wages are around 25 per cent lower than the sum pilots and stewards of AUA are receiving at the moment.

The AUA board refused to comment the figures yesterday but a spokesman for the company said bosses hoped to keep the number of employees leaving the airline as low as possible. He stressed that a travel chaos could be avoided regardless of how many employees decide to quit.

“We are well prepared. Pilots who used to do short-time were equipped with full-time contracts. Furthermore, we are closely cooperating with Lufthansa and Swiss concerning the temporary assignment of their pilots to carry out AUA flights,” he told broadcaster ORF today.

AUA suffered a loss of around one billion Euros in the past 10 years. The Vienna-based airline, which was founded in 1957, was taken over by Germany’s Lufthansa in 2009. The aviation giant was headed by Upper Austrian Wolfgang Mayrhuber at that time. German businessman Christoph Franz took over from Mayrhuber in the meantime.

Franz recently underlined that he had full trust in AUA as a brand and in the firm’s future – but he also warned from considering the ailing carrier as a “protected area”. Franz appealed on the AUA board to press on with the intended cost reductions to get the company back in the black.

Lufthansa sold British Midlands (BMI) to competitor British Airways only half a year ago. The former Lufthansa affiliate had been making losses for years. Many aviation industry observers think that a similar scenario is seen highly likely when it comes to how to handle AUA if the firm remains in the red.

AUA, which has around 6,000 full-time staff, made operative losses of 59.4 million Euros in 2011. Andreas Bierwirth and Peter Malanik recently left the carrier’s executive board. Former Star Alliance chief Jaan Albrecht was assigned as new head of the panel last November. Ex-Lufthansa manager Carsten Benz joined him only a few weeks ago. Benz has been described as extremely determined when it comes to carrying out painful structural reforms.