Whilst industrial action in the aviation industry is far from unusual and doesn’t always indicate the operational health of an airline, such a move from Adria’s pilots is redolent of the frustration felt throughout its rank and file regarding working conditions and the general direction the Brnik-based carrier is perceived to be heading. Threats by Adria’s cabin crews to down tools at the beginning of June were narrowly averted but anger from the airline’s pilots has continued to simmer, many viewing pessimistically the future prospects of their employer in the face of drastic cutbacks of passengers’ in flight experience and a fire sale of aircraft, a process which in effect kept the airline viable, albeit with a fleet of planes hired on wet lease terms taking the place of those it had to jettison. Reports of a possible Delavska hranilnica-backed bid that could see Adria’s pilot’s mount an employee buyout have so far come to naught.
The nineteen hour strike slated for 30th November is predicated on rebuffed salary demands and a hotly disputed collective bargaining agreement that has become an old saw among many of Adria’s employees. Drastic cost cutting would appear to be the root cause of the impasse, with Slovenia’s aviational unions unanimously rejecting the measures. Despite a seemingly generous offer to increase pilot salaries by 7.5% this has been declared unacceptable, as have counter-demands by Adria’s aviators. Justly acknowledging that this is the last thing the airline needs during some of the most testing times of Adria’s recent history, management still hope that strike action can be averted.
There are many fires to fight for Adria’s management, with a very real threat of default hanging over the airline should a reported recapitalisation package, valued at €8 million, fail to materialise. Needed to see the airline through the traditionally difficult winter season, investors may come to the conclusion that Adria has become a financial bottomless pit which no amount of money can plug. Despite the potential to convert a capital injection into equity, the status of legally binding bids already submitted – before the call for recapitalisation was made – for over 91% of the state-owned airline is unclear, with Slovenia’s incumbent administration desperately seeking to shrink the state by offloading many loss-making public companies, Adria being just one of the ‘group of fifteen’.
The strangest story emanating from Adria Airways is its recent unlikely foray into the world of Estonian aviation, which in effect will see the Slovenian carrier honour many of the routes of the now defunct Estonian Air, whose operation(and existence) ceased once state-aid it had previously received was declared illegal. Adding extra routes to its timetable, potentially linking Slovenia with the lucrative but hitherto untapped Scandinavian and Baltic markets, could be a fillip to the beleaguered airline but for the time being Adria-operated flights out of Tallinn will only adhere to the previous timetable, albeit using five of the former airline’s jets. A strange scenario of Adria’s own pilots striking at the end of November, thus grounding flights from the likes of Brnik will starkly contrast with Adria simultaneously OPERATING services from Tallinn – a unique case of when is an airline striking when it actually isn’t? 2015 has been a year to forget for Adria Airways but optimistic glances to 2016 must be tempered with the airline and its many supporters being careful for what they wish.
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