SAS pilots’ 'devastating strike threatens airline’s future'

Walkout at Scandinavian group to 'start immediately' after talks break down

An information board showing cancelled flights in the departure hall at Oslo Airport Gardermoen after it became clear that pilots of Scandinavian airline SAS would be taken out on strike. AFP
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Pay talks between Scandinavian airline SAS and its pilots collapsed on Monday, triggering a strike that the company says puts the future of the airline at risk.

About 1,000 cockpit crew, who are pushing for an improved pay deal, are expected to join the strike even as the airline group seeks a financial lifeline.

SAS issued a warning that the strikes, which are set to begin as soon as possible, would be “devastating”.

“We will do our utmost to reach an agreement that is viable to secure the long-term competitiveness and financial sustainability of the company,” chief executive Anko van der Werff said.

Pilots have been fighting salary cuts demanded by management as part of a restructuring plan aimed at ensuring the survival of the company, which has suffered a string of losses since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

As talks broke down on Monday, the airline’s pilot union said walkouts would begin immediately.

SAS chief executive Anko van der Werff confirmed the company's pilots would strike. EPA

Last weekend, easyJet and Ryanair staff staged strikes demanding better pay and conditions.

The protest action is affecting the travel industry as it tries to rebuild after a cycle of Covid lockdowns that largely closed the sector.

A strike could cost SAS between $11.2 million and $12.6m a day, Sydbank analyst Jacob Pedersen calculated, and the company's ticket sales for future flights could suffer from passengers being deterred.

“A strike at this point is devastating for SAS and puts the company’s future, together with the jobs of thousands of colleagues, at stake,” the airline said.

About 1,000 pilots in Denmark, Sweden and Norway will join the strike, the unions said.

“We blame this on SAS," Pilot Group chairman Martin Lindgren said. "We have finally realised that SAS doesn't want an agreement — SAS wants a strike.”

The airline's stock plunged more than 12 per cent in Stockholm.

“This is very bad news,” Mr van der Werff said.

“How on earth is a strike in the busiest week of the last two-and-a-half years going to help us find and attract investors?"

The loss-making airline is seeking to restructure its business by undertaking large cost cuts and converting debt to equity.

It estimated the strike would to lead to the cancellation of about 50 per cent of scheduled SAS flights and affect 30,000 passengers a day.

SAS, which serves destinations in Asia, Europe and the US, last month averaged 58,000 passengers a day.

Union leaders and management have been locked in negotiations since November and the collective agreement between the airline and the SAS Pilot Group union expired on April 1.

Pilots were angered by SAS's decision to hire new pilots through two new subsidiaries — Connect and Link — instead of first rehiring former employees dismissed during the pandemic, when almost half of its pilots lost their jobs.

A strike would include all pilots from parent company SAS Scandinavia, but not Link and Connect, a union that organises the 260 pilots attached to the two units. Neither would it affect SAS's external partners Xfly, Cityjet and Airbaltic, the company has said.

Updated: July 04, 2022, 1:07 PM