SAS reaches deal to end week-long pilot strike

SAS CFO Torbjorn Wist talks to the press after the parties reached an agreement.
SAS CFO Torbjorn Wist talks to the press after the parties reached an agreement.PHOTO: REUTERS

OSLO/STOCKHOLM (REUTERS) - Scandinavian airline SAS said late on Thursday (May 2) it reached a deal with unions to end a week-long strike by pilots that has grounded 380,000 passengers.

SAS chief executive Rickard Gustafson said the airline and the unions agreed on a 3.5 per cent salary increase in 2019 as part of the new three-year collective agreement.

He said flights would be resumed as soon as possible, but it would likely take up to 24 hours before operations were entirely up and running again.

SAS had cancelled more than 4,000 flights through Thursday since pilots went on strike on April 26 over wages and working conditions.

"I can, with relief, inform our customers and our staff that we now can put this conflict behind us. We have tonight signed a new collective agreement with our four pilot unions," Gustafson told a news conference.

Close to bankruptcy in 2012, SAS sold assets and cut wages and thousands of jobs in return for a life-saving credit facility. It has been profitable in the last four years, but fuel costs are rising and overcapacity is still squeezing the sector.

Pilots had been seeking around a 13 per cent pay hike, to make up for the 2012 wage cuts. SAS, which is part-owned by the Swedish and Danish governments, said that would entail significant cost increases that would seriously damage competitiveness.

"The agreements between SAS and the pilots' unions concern predictability of scheduling, job security and salaries. In addition, the previously canceled agreements concerning collaboration and career paths have been reintroduced," SAS said in a statement.

SAS shares earlier on Thursday closed up 9 per cent, reaching levels seen just before the strike began on Friday, supported by news that talks had resumed, and later in the day, by Norwegian media reports that the parties were nearing a deal.

Analysts have estimated the stand-off could cost SAS as much as US$10.5 million (S$14 million) a day, threatening to wipe out the airline's annual profit in short order.

Gustafson said SAS would elaborate on costs for the dispute in connection with its next earnings report.

"I am very satisfied that SAS and the pilots have reached an agreement so the passengers can fly again. I hope that there will now be peace and stability around SAS," Denmark's finance minister, Kristian Jensen, said on Twitter.