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Aer Lingus pilots strike

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe and Ray O’Hanlon

Aer Lingus was this week moving fast to put together a trans-Atlantic contingency plan in the face of a one-day stoppage by pilots set for Thursday.

An immediate effect of the stoppage will mean that there will be no Aer Lingus flights in or out of New York this Friday, May 31. Nor will there be any flights out of Kennedy Airport to Ireland on Saturday, although there will be a flight on that day into the New York airport.

As of Tuesday, it is believed there will be flights in and out of Kennedy on Sunday.

There will also be a flight into and out of Kennedy on Thursday, the actual day of the stoppage.

Aer Lingus has leased a Boeing 747 from the Spanish carrier Corsair for the day.

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That aircraft, with 25 first-class and 555 economy-class seats, will be manned by a Corsair flight crew while Aer Lingus personnel will comprise the cabin crew.

Aer Lingus is hoping to have its trans-Atlantic schedule running normally from Sunday.

According to Brian Murphy, Aer Lingus vice president for sales and marketing North America, the carrier was working to reaccommodate passengers traveling on the canceled flights out of New York.

“They will be offered routing over London or the next available flight,” Murphy said Tuesday.

Against the backdrop of the New York contingency plans, the crisis at Aer Lingus had appeared to only worsen Tuesday with the airline saying that it would review its operations on a daily basis.

The entire operation of the airline, not just the flights in and out of New York, will come to a halt on Friday.

“As a result of strike action by pilots on Thursday and their ongoing refusal to cooperate with the full implementation of the Survival Plan, Aer Lingus will not be in a position to recommence operations on Friday,” the airline said in a statement. “This position will be kept under review on a daily basis.”

The statement also said Aer Lingus would issue regular bulletins on its operating plans.

Earlier this month Aer Lingus pilots voted by 635 to 3 against new work practices and rosters in the airline’s survival plan, one that was designed to save the company from financial collapse.

Their union, IMPACT, called Thursday’s one-day stoppage when the airline began to suspend pilots for refusing to work the new rosters. So far, seven pilots have been suspended.

IMPACT spokesman Michael Landers said he was amazed by the company’s reaction. He said the decision to suspend flights Friday was “totally unnecessary” and described it as “reckless action” that damaged the airline.

“As and from Friday our pilots and every other worker in the company will be available to work their normal days work and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why flights shouldn’t operate on Friday,” he said.

The company statement, meanwhile, said that Aer Lingus was “deeply disturbed” by letter from IMPACT saying that the union failed to see the relevance of the survival plan.

Aer Lingus said the IMPACT statement was “totally at variance” with the views of the vast majority of the staff who had voted for and implemented change in accordance with the plan.

“It is also at variance with the process facilitated by the Labor Relations Commission, including the ruling of an independent agreed arbitrator.

“Aer Lingus has consistently maintained that full implementation of the survival plan is vital for the future viability of the company.”

The airline regretted the decision to close on Friday and at the start of what is a bank holiday weekend in Ireland.

It said the closure was “made inevitable by the disruption caused by Thursday’s strike, the ongoing threat of further action and the written confirmation from IMPACT that the pilots will continue to refuse to implement the arbitration rulings on the airline’s survival plan.”

About 30,000 passengers traveling in and out of Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports will be affected by the stoppage on Thursday.

In addition to reworking it trans-Atlantic flight schedules, Aer Lingus has rebooked all passengers due to travel to the World Cup soccer tournament in Japan.

At a cost of euro 500,000, the airline is leasing in planes from abroad to maintain a skeleton service on Thursday, including the flight to New York.

The airline lost in the region of euro 150 million last year. Before the pilots’ action, chief executive Willie Walsh had said it was on target this year to reduce the hemorrhage of cash to a target of euro 27 million or less.

Already suffering from the impact of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis last year, the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. sent losses soaring as passenger numbers plummeted.

The survival plan involves more than 2,000 job losses, pay freezes for the 4,000 remaining staff and major cost savings.

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