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Scandinavian Airlines crippled by summer pilot strike

The Stockholm-based carrier is losing millions of dollars each day after a thousand pilots walked out when labor negotiations broke down.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — Two hundred flight mechanics working in Denmark for Scandinavian Airline Systems are planning to join a devastating strike in solidarity with airline pilots on Thursday.

“It takes two to tango. Here, SAS did not want to dance at all. They only wanted a conflict. SAS's management must take 100% of the blame,” said Keld Bækkelund Hansen, negotiator at Dansk Metal, a union representing pilots and mechanics of the airline, according to Danish broadcaster DR1.

Passengers might be at risk for more canceled flights, Hansen said.

But SAS spokesperson Alexandra Lindgren Kaoukji said throwing flight mechanics into the strike will not have such an impact.

“We have found a solution so SAS Connect can continue flying even with the mechanics going on strike,” Kaoukji said. “Of course, it will have an impact on the planes that are grounded [in Denmark] and needs maintenance on a regular basis. When pilots return, we won’t be able to use these flights straight away."

Airplanes can get their necessary maintenance check in other countries where workers are not striking, she said.

The warning from Dansk Metal comes just three days into a strike by 1,000 SAS pilots who refuse to work after negotiations with the company’s executives broke down on Monday.

SAS is only operating around 50% capacity due to the pilot strike, missing out on crucial revenue during the Scandinavian summer holiday season. Around 30.000 passengers are impacted by the strike daily.

The Scandinavian airline giant, established in 1946 by the governments of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, presented a whopping income deficit of 1.6 billion Swedish krona ($151 million) in the second quarter of this financial year.

International Covid-19 restrictions clearly took a toll on the carrier, which presented a plan called SAS Forward to rescue the company from bankruptcy. One of the main objectives is to cut yearly costs by 7.5 billion Swedish krona ($711 million).

Longtime pilots raised concerns after the airline started employing new pilots with agreements on lower salaries and benefits under its subsidiaries called SAS Link and SAS Connect, which the SAS management deem necessary for survival.

The pilots agreed to take a temporary wage cut, but not to the extent that SAS wished for. On Monday, negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement broke down, resulting in the strike.

“When the clock reached 12, we gave SAS an offer that matched what they asked for. But then they suddenly needed something extra,” said Henrik Thyregod, chairman of the Danish Pilot Union, part of Dansk Metal.

SAS CEO Anko van der Werff was frustrated when he talked with the press on Monday.

“We have just been through a terrible pandemic,” van der Werff said. “We have received a lot of money from taxpayers. It is shameful that this is how pilots are paying back for the generosity and patience everyone had with the company during these times."

All Danish registered companies had the option to apply for public funding during hard Covid lockdowns to prevent businesses from closing.

The strike costs SAS between $8 to $10 million daily, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Denmark and Sweden each own 21.8% of SAS. Norway sold all its company shares in 2018.

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