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How long could the SAS pilot strike last? 

Some 900 pilots from airline SAS are on strike affecting tens of thousands of passengers in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and beyond. But will the strike be over in days or drag on for weeks? Here's what we know so far.

SAS plane.
Experts have said the SAS pilot strike could last between around a week. File photo: an SAS plane takes off at dusk from Tegel airport in Berlin. Photo by Odd Andersen / AFP)

Pilots from Scandinavian airline SAS are on strike over a disagreement on wages and working conditions. The airline has said that each day that the strike continues, 30,000 passengers will be affected

The strike, in which 900 pilots are participating, could spell chaos for travellers travelling in and out of the Nordics this summer, the first without pandemic disruption since 2019. 

Many booked with the airline have been left sweating over whether or not their flight will be cancelled, with neither side signalling how long the strike will go on. 

Unfortunately, one aviation expert doesn’t see an end to the strike soon.

The reason for this is that pilots are not only striking over wages and working conditions but also because they are unhappy with how the airline are recruiting pilots.

Instead of re-employing those SAS pilots who were laid off during cutbacks caused by the pandemic, priority is instead being given to hiring new pilots on cheaper deals in two subsidiaries, SAS Link and SAS Connect.

“There are no reassuring signs that it (the strike) will be short-lived. They have been negotiating for several days, with several postponements, and yet they did not agree,” Jacob Pedersen, an aircraft analyst at Danish Sydbank, told Norwegian newspaper VG

The hiring of new pilots to subsidiaries has caused a deep rift between the two parties during negotiations. The airline sees it as an essential part of cost-cutting practices required to ensure its survival. In contrast, pilots’ representatives argue that hiring pilots to subsidiaries on lower terms is a form of reducing the power and influence of the unions. 

However, one of the parties will have to compromise eventually, according to Alexander Sønderland Skjønberg, associate professor at BI Norwegian Business School.

“They disagree on a very fundamental question. How they will solve it, this is difficult to imagine. But one of the parties will give in at some point,” he said to VG. 

The professor predicted the strike could last for around a week. 

“It is so difficult to say because I do not know where they stand in the negotiations, but I guess maybe a week’s time (the strike could end)”, Skjønberg said. 

The reason being is partially due to the perilous financial state of SAS, with some analysts predicting that the strike could bankrupt the company if it drags on for too long. 

“Either the pilots give up, SAS gives up, otherwise the company goes,” Espen Andersen, an aviation analyst at BI Norwegian Business School, said to VG. 

Similarly, Christian Kamhaug said he didn’t envisage the strike lasting much longer than the previous strike in 2019 due to estimates that the strike is costing SAS between 80-100 million Norwegian kroner per day. 

“The previous pilot strike, which was in 2019, lasted for six days. It was a pretty long strike, really. It is said that SAS then lost 700 million kroner,” Kamhaug told Norwegian TV2.

READ ALSO: What can SAS passengers do if their flight is affected by pilots’ strike?

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SAS pilots approve new collective agreement

93 percent of Danish SAS pilots have approved the agreement that ended strike action last month.

SAS pilots approve new collective agreement

93 percent of the Danish SAS pilots have voted yes to an agreement which ended strike action but also means, among other things, redeployments, longer working weeks and lower wages.

This was announced by Dansk Metal on Saturday morning. The pilots could have voted yes or no on the new collective agreement until midnight on Friday evening.

Pilots in Sweden and Norway have also approved the agreement.

Keld Bækkelund Hansen, head of negotiations at Dansk Metal, said “I am incredibly happy. It is a bit atypical to see that a collective agreement negotiation ends in agreements being made that reduce wages and conditions.”

“So of course it was exciting how our members viewed the new collective agreement. But they could also see that it was a necessity in relation to SAS’s situation,” he added.

The agreement comes after months of tug-of-war that finally saw SAS and the striking pilots reach a collective agreement on 19 July. It helped end a two-week strike.

Part of the background to the conflict between SAS and the pilots was that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, SAS dismissed around half of its pilots.

With the new collective agreement, however, all 450 dismissed pilots will be offered re-employment in the future.

At the same time, SAS pilots will see a 25 percent pay cut, and the limit for the workload is raised from 47 hours to 60 hours per week.

But even with strike action over and a collective agreement supported by pilots, the problems are far from over for SAS, which has suffered major financial losses during the conflict.

Currently, the airline plans to begin a reconstruction in the United States under bankruptcy protection in a so-called Chapter 11 process.

Bankruptcy protection will mean that SAS can continue to operate and pay wages while the process is ongoing.

SAS is seeking financing of up to $700 million- slightly more than DKK 5.1 billion.

SAS press manager Alexandra Lindgren Kaoukji said in a statement: “We are very happy and look forward to continuing our ongoing Chapter 11 process and our work to ensure a strong and sustainable airline for many years to come.The positive result of the vote will help SAS to attract long-term investors while we go through the Chapter 11 process and work further with the SAS Forward plan.”