ATW Editor's Blog

Pilots’ strike may be over, but Air France is still in danger

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Air France pilots have ended their two-week strike, which according to the carrier was costing some €20 million ($26 million) per day. But the real cost of this shameful outcome could be much higher.

In a statement Monday Air France said, “the strike has been costly and damaging. It has lasted too long.”

Sadly, this is all too true. To end the walkout, Air France was forced to abandon its low cost subsidiaryTransavia Europe strategy, even though it is still able to grow Transavia France beyond its current fleet of 14 Boeing 737-800s.

What the pilots have really achieved through this strike is to put the very future of Air France in question. As sister publication Aviation Week says in its editorial,   “the retreat is a catastrophe for Air France-KLM chairman/CEO Alexandre de Juniac and could ultimately prove to be the same for the storied carrier.”

All around Europe, legacy carriers are doing battle every day to compete against LCCs new and emerging. It’s a trend that is extending to the transatlantic market, which has been a critical revenue provider for those same legacy carriers.

It’s not a trend that is going to reverse. LCCs are highly established in the US, causing the same kind of aggravation for Asian legacy carriers, and are the fast-growth carriers in emerging markets such as India and Brazil.

Legacy carriers have no choice: they simply have to address costs, improve productivity and rewrite the rule books (including labor agreements and what’s included in the base ticket price) to stay in business.

That’s not to say that management is blameless in the Air France dispute. Clearly, it took too long to get to this point and lines of communication are wanting at the company.

But what has happened at Air France the past couple of weeks is almost beyond belief.  If the labor groups representing the Air France pilots cannot see for themselves the danger they have put their members in, let’s hope the pilots themselves open their eyes before it’s too late.

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