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‘Overworked’ pilots warn flights could be disrupted

Airline says ‘sabre-rattling’ by union might damage islands’ tourism industry

Air Malta pilots are warning the company that they are on the brink of “breaking point”. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Air Malta pilots are warning the company that they are on the brink of “breaking point”. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Air Malta pilots are warning the company that international flights may soon be affected if they continue being denied their days off and their approved holiday leave is cancelled.

Airline Pilots Association (Alpa) president Dominic Azzopardi told Times of Malta yesterday that his members had been putting up with this situation for far too long and were now on the brink of breaking point.

“The situation has been dragging on for far too long. We are understaffed and overworked and cannot even take our off days,” Captain Azzopardi said.

“To make matters worse, our members are having their approved vacation leave cancelled. We are warning the company of a situation that has been persisting.

We are quickly reaching burnout - pilots' union president

“We would not like to escalate matters but even if we don’t, it has reached a point where flights will certainly be affected, with or without industrial action.”

As a first step, Alpa has instructed its members to dress down for work and not wear the uniform. This action will start next week.

Reacting, the airline said itwas disappointed with Alpa’s “threats”, saying it had offered to meet its representatives on Tuesday. It said it was committed to discuss all pending issues in a “comprehensive and constructive manner”.

CEO Peter Davies said: “I cannot allow for the hard work and effort put in by many employees to be ruined by Alpa on the premise of malicious disinformation.

“The airline, the tourism industry and the country does not deserve these threats.”

But Mr Azzopardi said the company was dragging its feet on several other issues, including the 35 per cent income tax slapped on the early retirement package given to those pilots who were offered a golden handshake to leave.

“Early retirement packages were never taxed but all of a sudden they became taxable,” he said.

Other issues the pilots’ union had with management concerned the crew transport.

But the biggest issue they had, Mr Azzopardi said, was the long stretches pilots had to work because they were understaffed.

He explained that the company had lost another 15 pilots since March, mostly due to early retirement, and they had not been replaced.

As a result, pilots were being asked to cover for their colleagues and work on their days off while their booked and approved holidays were being cancelled.

“We have members who were asked to come in while they are supposed to be on holiday with their families.

“It is unacceptable because they were already working their days off. We are quickly reaching burnout,” he said, adding that pilots’ stress levels were also on the increase.

Sources said the firm was paying pilots for every day off they were denied, costing around €300 every time, excluding overtime.

They said the company was paying close to €80,000 a month extra because of the understaffing.

The airline said in a statement that some pending issues could not be resolved within the “unrealistic” time frames set by the pilots’ association and needed time and cooperation to reach “mutually agreed” outcomes.

“Air Malta management regrets Alpa’s inappropriate sabre-rattling at this time. There is no justification for any threat of an industrial dispute on these issues,” it said in its statement.

“Not for the first time, Alpa is threatening a dispute at the height of the summer season, which can only damage Air Malta and the broader tourism industry.”

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