Norwegian at risk if strike continues, Kjos warns
Norwegian Air chief executive Bjørn Kjos has warned that the pilot strike which grounded his entire Scandinavian fleet on Wednesday can only continue for a matter of weeks before putting the survival of the company at risk.
“There are countless examples of unions striking companies into bankruptcy,” he warned, as he gave his first press conference since the company’s pilots called a strike on Saturday.
The company’s 2.1 billion Norwegian kroner in equity gave it “survivability”, he said, but the company could “not afford to take losses indefinitely.”
He estimated that the company had the financial firepower to withstand the strike at least into next week.
“We'll probably survive next week too,” he said. “But it will hammer the company, and it will put it back and maybe lead to some routes being shelved.”
Around 700 of the company’s pilots went on strike on Wednesday, grounding all flights within Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Some international services were also cancelled, including flights between Oslo and Berlin, Hamburg and Amsterdam and from Bergen and Stavanger to London.
Kjos warned said if the strike continues into next week it could mean the company repeating the annual loss it posted for 2014.
“It is not easy to turn a large loss to a profit, so we could very quickly find that we are making a loss,” he said.
Kjos said that the fact that around 35,000 passengers had already been affected by the strike was “extremely tragic”, adding that he did not mind upsetting unions by hiring new planes to replace his own grounded fleet if it meant fewer flights being cancelled.
He said that the company could simply not afford to grant pilots the collective employment agreement they are demanding.
“We must accept that the temperature is high,” he said. “They know perfectly well what is possible. As recently as night we sent over a whole package to them and we have not heard a peep. They want to have control over all flights in and out of Scandinavia. This is of course impossible.”
The head of the Norwegian Pilots’ Union, Halvor Vatnar, insisted that it was in fact the company which was refusing the reengage in negotiations.
“After a clear invitation from our side for a meeting, we received a text late on Tuesday night that was virtually identical to the one we previously rejected,” he told NTB newswire on Wednesday afternoon. “We then sent a reply to the company early on Wednesday morning and we are still waiting for a response many hours later.”