The Superior Tribunal of Bogotá ruled yesterday that a pilot strike that is severely hampering the operations of Avianca represents an illegal action.
The more-than-two-week-old strike is being carried out by the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (ACDAC), which counts more than 700 of Avianca’s roughly 1,300 domestic pilots as its members and is seeking higher wages, among other concessions, from the Bogotá-based airline
Avianca (NYSE: AVH), which has considered the strike illegal since before it began because the pilots provide what it classifies as an “essential public service,” instigated the grievance that the judicial body ruled upon. The carrier now has legal standing to fire the pilots if they do not return to work, although ACDAC may still appeal the decision.
Adding to Avianca’s leverage was an approval granted earlier this week by Colombia’s civil aviation authority, Aerocivil, that will allow the airline to bring in foreign pilots to command its aircraft on a temporary basis.
Since the strike began 17 days ago, Avianca, the nation’s largest airline, has been operating at limited capacity. It has canceled thousands of flights due to the pilot shortage, leaving the entire Colombian air travel network overwhelmed and unable to meet passenger demand in recent weeks. Medellín-based Bancolombia estimated that Avianca has been losing $2.5 million USD in sales everyday since the strike began.
Thus far, the labor standoff remains at an impasse. In the day following the ruling, Avianca continued to cancel flights across the country. More than 10 flights originally scheduled for Saturday, for example, were cancelled on the route between Bogotá and the coastal city of Barranquilla, which welcomed an influx of travelers this week to watch the Colombian national team play a World Cup qualifying football match.
In a statement, Avianca offered an “invitation” to the pilots to return to work in hopes that the decision moves ACDAC to end the strike and re-engage in negotiations, which have continued since the strike began in a limited, non-fruitful manner with assistance from the Colombian Ministry of Transportation.
“It is our obligation to focus all our attention on our customers and normalizing operations promptly,” said Hernán Rincón, president and CEO of Avianca SA. “We urge the pilots of ACDAC to return to work and comply with the legal decisions immediately in order to end this strike that has so affected the connectivity of the country and done much damage to travelers and the company.”
Photo credit: Avianca