Airline braced for strike turbulence

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Mediation between Norwegian Air’s management and around 700 of the airline’s Scandinavian pilots was described as “difficult” as a strike loomed from Saturday morning. Passengers on flights originating from Norway would be hit hardest, although the airline claimed its goal was avoid severe disruption.

Norwegian Air has had a difficult launch of its new intercontinental flights. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air is caught in more trouble, with its Scandinavian pilots threatening to go on strike. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

“We’ve gone into the mediation with a positive approach and a desire to reach agreement (with the pilots),” Daniel Kirchhoff, a spokesman for Norwegian Air, told state broadcaster NRK on Friday. “But if the two sides don’t agree, our goal is to operate our planned flights during the weekend.”

Asked how the airline could do that, Kirchhoff claimed that many of the 70 pilots in Norway, Sweden and Denmark who would be pulled off the job were not scheduled to work on the weekend anyway. “We’re also working with other possibilities (to be announced on the airline’s own website) … so that no passengers will be affected during the weekend,” he added.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the threatened strike would affect departures within Europe on flights that start in Norway. Most of Norwegian’s domestic routes in Norway would be affected as well.

Long-haul flights not affected
A strike is not expected, however, to affect departures of flights with crews based in England, Spain, the US and Thailand, because many of those pilots are not covered by the Norwegian Pilot Union that represents the higher-paid Scandinavian pilots fighting to retain their pensions, benefits and pay levels. The Scandinavian pilots are also fighting to retain permanent jobs for pilots hired directly by Norwegian Air’s parent company, instead of through special-purpose subsidiaries or crewing agency abroad.

Norwegian Air’s long-haul routes will be spared from the strike, since they’re operated by lower-paid Asian and American crews. Most flights to Spain and England were also expected to operate as normal.

The unhappy pilots who reside in Scandinavia, where the cost of living is much higher than in Asia and the US, feel threatened by Norwegian’s ongoing efforts to use much lower-paid non-Scandinavian crews for its intercontinental route expansion. They’re threatening in return to expand their strike from Monday if the two sides don’t come to terms.

‘Demanding’
State mediator Nils Dalseide told NRK that it will “likely be demanding” to find solutions because the two sides were “far apart” on several key issues. Norwegian’s management wants to freeze pilots’ pay levels, cut their pension and cut the cost of insurance benefits, while the pilots are demanding a new collective bargaining agreement with what they call a “real employer,” not what they called a “paper company” set up as a special subsidiary, or a crewing agency.

“This is difficult mediation,” Dalseide said. “There are several points we need to work.” He assessed the mood, however, as “good, with constructive dialog.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund