The Colombian aviation regulator today authorized a temporary allowance for Avianca to bring in foreign pilots in order to make up for the worker shortfall that has been severely disrupting operations since some 700 pilots went on strike nearly two weeks ago.
Following the new resolution approved this morning by the nation’s Civil Aeronautics (Aerocivil) authority, which was “provisionally established for a period of no more than three months,” the Bogota-based carrier announced that it will immediately begin bringing in pilots and crew members. Avianca says it plans initially draw upon those that already work abroad for the airline, which is among the largest in Latin America with flights to most of the largest cities in the region as well as major airports in the Untied States and Europe.
“With this decision, once again the Colombian state is on the side of the company that violates labor rights and not the rights of workers.” – ACDAC
While finding pilots from abroad to operate in the country won’t bring operations back to normal, it will make “it easier for us to resume a large part of the flights in Colombia,” said Hernán Rincón, president and CEO of Avianca Holdings.
The executive added that Avianca is “also checking the availability of pilots at companies that have qualified crews to reinforce the operation.” In addition, the airline has already begun a recruitment effort to hire new Colombian pilots who are not members of the union that has gone on strike. After “continuous calls made by Avianca,” said Rincón, the carrier has already identified “more than 1,800 candidates that are in the selection process.”
The striking Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (ACDAC), which counts some 700 of Avianca’s roughly 1,300 pilots among its members, has renounced this new measure approved by Aerocivil as illegal and in violation of various rules governing labor and aviation law.
“With this decision, once again the Colombian state is on the side of the company that violates labor rights and not the rights of workers,” said ACDAC in a statement. The union added that it “will advance the administrative and legal processes” at its disposal and called on pilots across the region to maintain “solidarity and support to the Colombian pilots on strike” by rejecting “the call by Avianca to come and supplant our workforce.”
For its part, Avianca has called the ACDAC strike illegal since before it began, and a Bogotá court is expected to issue a forthcoming ruling on the matter as soon as this week. While workers are generally afforded the right to go on strike under Colombian law, Avianca maintains that this does not apply in the case of its pilots because air travel is an “essential public service.”
The authorization will make “it easier for us to resume a large part of the flights in Colombia,” said Hernán Rincón, head of Avianca Holdings.
Aerocivil, which stressed that the newly approved “measure seeks to ensure the mobility and air connectivity of the country in extraordinary situations,” has attached several limitations to the new regulation.
Principally, the number of foreign pilots utilized must not exceed 10% of the total number of Colombian pilots working for the company. Foreign pilots may also only be used as flight commanders when no qualified Colombian pilots are available to operate the route, stated Aerocivil.
Additionally, any foreign pilot brought in must show proof that their license is accredited by the International Civil Aviation Organization and that they are proficient in either Spanish or English. If the pilot only speaks English fluently, they will only be allowed to operate flights that take off and land at international airports within Colombia. Foreign pilots also may not be flight commanders on any route that requires “special conditions or training,” according to Aerocivil.
The increasingly contentious strike began nearly two weeks ago after ACDAC called off labor negotiations with Avianca in which it was seeking higher wages for its pilots, among other concessions. The two sides have continued to engage in dialogue, facilitated by the Ministry of Transportation, but thus far the revised proposals submitted have not been sufficient to end the impasse.
Since the strike began, thousands of flights have already been cancelled in Colombia, where travelers are now suffering from the lack of air travel options now that the country’s largest airline is operating at limited capacity.
Photo: An Avianca 787 on the tarmac at José María Córdova International Airport near Medellín in Colombia. (Credit: Avianca)