By Ezra Gollan
SAS Pilot Strike Hints Further Struggles for Carrier
SAS — Scandinavia’s largest airline — now stares directly in the face of collapse, following disputes over wages with its pilot union on Monday. Talks came to a halt, initiating a strike that is likely to cause havoc in the European skies for the coming months. According to the airline, roughly 50 percent of its scheduled flights will need to be canceled, as around 1,000 of the airline’s pilots in Sweden, Norway and Denmark will go on strike.
“We deeply regret that our customers are affected by this strike, leading to delays and canceled flights. We know all our passengers have been longing for this summer holiday and have booked travels for themselves and their loved ones. SAS employees are working hard to help our customers that have been affected by this unfortunate situation,” Anko van der Werff, President & CEO of SAS, said in a press release. “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 decision to go on strike now demonstrates reckless behavior from the pilots’ unions and a shockingly low understanding of the critical situation that SAS is in.”
Financial Woes Continue
Anko van der Werff is certainly right when it comes to SAS’s financial situation. The carrier is in deep trouble and needs large amounts of cash that it says are necessary to improve its outlook. The airline is partly owned by the government of Sweden and Denmark. The Norwegian government sold its stake in SAS in 2018 though they are still creditors and said they are open to converting the debt to equity.
SAS’s struggles have prompted it to search for opportunities to convert debt to equity. SAS said in February that it would need to raise 9.5 billion Swedish Kronas ($946 million) in order to stay afloat and convert at least 20 billion Swedish Kronas of debt into equity.
The SAS pilot union was reportedly upset over SAS’s plans to hire pilots from its Connect and Link subsidiaries, instead of hiring back pilots who were furloughed when the pandemic sent the industry to a standstill. SAS says flights from SAS Link and SAS Connect will not be impacted by the strike though this represents a small portion of the carrier’s operations.
The effects of SAS canceling around 50 percent of its flights are sure to be felt throughout Europe — particularly with the busy summer season ahead. Airlines within the Star Alliance network will also feel the impact when it comes to connection options for passengers and codeshares.
It remains unclear as to when the SAS and the pilots union will re-engage in talks.