Few outside of the aviation industry will be aware of how close Adria came to ceasing to trade, only last year ceding control of another two of its aircraft by entering sale and leaseback agreements to inject emergency liquidity into the business. It was never thought that the acquiring of planes on wet lease agreements that has resulted in only one of the twelve aircraft operated this summer by Adria being owned by the airline would be popular but it was universally recognised as a necessary evil, to enable a continuation of a Slovenian presence in the skies. Nevertheless, in a recent missive from the Slovenian Pilots Union this arrangement has been used as a stick by which to beat the airline’s management, in addition to seemingly ignored pleas regarding blatant breaches of workplace protocols. Adria’s cabin crew members had already announced industrial action for June 1st – the symbolic first day of the summer flight schedule and designed to cause maximum disruption – for what now looks like the tip of the iceberg, the pilots now feeling more able to go public with their grievances once the union representing flight attendants had in effect blinked first.
Positive announcements that clearly demonstrating Adria’s rebooted business model was starting to reap dividends now sound hollow; profit announcements, additional routes, projected passenger numbers and estimated turnover figures being heavily undermined by serious discontent within the rank and file only serving to give a real sense of everything not being all it seems at the Brnik-based airline.
Not only will Adria wish to avert strike action initiated by the cabin crew staff they will also hope that their pilots won’t now feel sufficiently emboldened to follow suit to support their fellow front line colleagues, as well as furthering their own cause by bringing to light serious allegations that the airline will be quick to reject or, draw a line under through a successful collective bargaining process that gains a consensus between all parties.
With Adria Airways being one of the ‘gang of fifteen’ publically owned companies slated for denationalisation, the rumours of the airline’s pilots seeking to buy a controlling stake of Adria is redolent of being the only way they can be sure of securing the propitious working conditions sought, whilst also guaranteeing a majority shareholder being based within Slovenia’s boundaries – the theory being investors that are geographically based in the country are more likely to run the airline sympathetically and have its best interest at heart. Delavska hranilnica, the trade union backed savings bank would seem to be the obvious choice from which to source a loan to acquire a controlling interest of Adria, not only because of their blatant favouring of guilds becoming their own workplace bosses to shape a business’s destiny from within the country rather than abroad but also, their own experiences within the fluid Slovenian aviation sector since adding a majority stake in Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Airport to their portfolio. Industry guidelines preclude Delavska of breaking client confidentiality, for the time being only giving a stock answer to the effect that all business proposals seeking financial assistance to facilitate takeover bids will be presented the bank’s conditions for such an agreement being reached; it would though be a big surprise if a memorandum of understanding between the two parties wasn’t in due course released into the public domain. Widely heralded as a triumph for Slovenian interests set amongst the prevailing climate of key assets being vulnerable to foreign takeovers, by recently inviting offers for part of its stake in the airport Delavska have perhaps underestimated the task at hand to create a sustainable low cost hub, with only Adria’s thrice weekly high-profile service into London Southend confirmed; despite ongoing conjecture centred on additional routes into Azerbaijan and Russia it is not known if renewed Chinese interest in the aerodrome came to fruition whether flights between Maribor and the lucrative Far Eastern market would be included.
Industrial action timed to run in tandem with the start of Adria’s fledgling service into Southend has been designed to strike at the very heart of a route considered to be a litmus test for the viability of Maribor introducing further services this year or as is more likely, in 2016. Initial ticket sales have exceeded pragmatic expectations but set against a backdrop of a scheduled walkout and disgruntled pilots, Adria will have to move quickly to ensure these damaging headlines don’t escalate or a very real feeling will intensify that for all the upbeat press releases coming from the airline, there remains a serious undercurrent of potentially terminal problems being exposed to the public and aviation industry as a whole.
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