Airlines take hit as pilots go ‘AWOL’
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Oct 15, 2013
SkyBahamas had chalked up $126,000 in costs by yesterday from an ongoing “sickout” by the majority of its pilots who are allegedly demanding a new contract.
Calling the financial impact of the action by pilots at the Bahamian airline “a dent so bad it will be a challenge to recover”, SkyBahamas CEO and President Randy Butler said the airline was forced to charter other flights for its passengers who would have otherwise been left stranded in destinations throughout The Bahamas and Florida.
The sickout began on Sunday morning, and up to press time last night the action was ongoing, with Butler claiming he is unable to communicate with the pilots.
“I’m hoping we can come together. Something has definitely gone awry; if I missed it, I take responsibility, but I can’t get a hold of them,” Butler told Guardian Business yesterday.
Butler said the company received a copy of the contract in question from the Bahamas Pilots Alliance around the end of June or beginning of July, but was “not aware there was an issue” that would have led to this weekend’s sick-out.
“We’d received a contract; we said we’d take a look and give a counterproposal,” Butler said. “There was no indication at all there was a problem. I thought with the crew and everyone being aware of how fragile the industry is, I thought we’d continue to put our best foot forward.
“This is my team, and they are wonderful men for the best part I might say, but I think there’s an outside influence. When you have a new pilot union headed by Bahamasair pilots, you have to wonder; their jobs are secure, so it doesn’t matter to them.”
Guardian Business could not reach the Bahamas Pilots Alliance (BPA) last night for comment, despite leaving a detailed voicemail message.
Fourteen SkyBahamas pilots were yesterday said to have been off the job, impacting a further 100-plus workers at the airline.
Butler told Guardian Business that had he been approached to negotiate over the contract he would have been happy to do so. The executive added he would not be opposed to the contract as it currently stands, but remains open to negotiating the terms.
“When I met with one of the union presidents yesterday, he said, ‘It’s not industrial action, but we want you to start
negotiating and sign off now on this contract.’ Are you telling me you’re going to cripple and put out of business this company? Are you saying you are going to have 18 people put all of these people out? We have 126 employees. They want us to put aside $400,000 for a health plan for 18 pilots, who already have a group plan. It’s almost an exact replica of a Bahamasair contract.”
Butler said that as far as he is aware, SkyBahamas is the only airline impacted by pilots staying home from work over the contract issue, and he believes that the airline is being used as a “test case” by the BPA given its perceived “robustness and strength” within the domestic airline industry.
On Sunday and up until yesterday afternoon, the company paid out $126,000 for chartering of services by other airlines and to ensure its customers could find seats on other airlines.
Butler noted that in some cases the airline was covering “three times what we had been paid by the customer” to ensure passengers were able to reach their destinations notwithstanding the action by pilots.
Sky Bahamas operates services in and out of Nassau to Exuma, Cat Island, Abaco, Grand Bahama and North Eleuthera, and from Freeport and Marsh Harbour to Fort Lauderdale.
Butler said the company has made arrangements to ensure that there will be no disruption for passengers should the sick out continue through tomorrow.
“We’ve set ourselves up until Wednesday. I believe it will be resolved by then. There may be some delays,” he added.