Air Malta to lay off almost all pilots, union ‘questions the wisdom’ of Chief

Maltese flag carrier, Air Malta (IATA: KF) has come under scrutiny after pilot union ALPA said it was questioning ‘the wisdom’ of Air Malta Chief Executive, Captain Clifford Chetcuti.

Air Malta Airbus A320neo registered 9H-NEO. Photo by Chris de Breun │ AeroNewsX

This comes after Air Malta notified the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) of its intention to layoff 108 pilots, representing 80% of its cockpit workforce. ALPA says this leaves enough pilots to man two aircraft. Originally, Air Malta had asked pilots to take a minimum income – worth EUR1200 a month – an offer rejected by the pilot union.

Furthermore, 284 out of 333 cabin crew members either made redundant or not have their contract renewed. The cabin crew union has reached an agreement with Air Malta with trust having been ‘severely dented’ nevertheless. The ALPA-Air Malta feud continues.

Air Malta has a fleet of 10 aircraft, comprising 1 Airbus A319, 6 Airbus A320-200s and 3 Airbus A320neos. The carrier has reported consistent losses for the last two decades, with the exception of the financial year ending March 2018. The announcement of the carrier's first profit in two decades was a massive achievement for Air Malta as it was also awarded the 'Turnaround Airline of the Year' award by CAPA.

Pilot union ALPA has said that while it understands the difficulties involved in the COVID-19 crisis, it was unhappy with the lack of consultation from Air Malta.

“Air Malta resorted to informing the DIER about redundancies without effectively exploring other possible avenues and instead presenting ALPA with a ‘fait accompli’.”

ALPA then attacked the CEO, Captain Clifford Chetcuti saying that he had “lost his opportunity to come clean and tell his workforce up front about his salary cuts and perks, like respectable CEOs around the globe have done”.

The union then went on to say that Chetcuti was ‘creating negative undercurrents’ and demanded that the Air Malta management be transparent about their pay cuts to set an example. In particular, the union mentioned Chetcuti’s EUR300,000 salary excluding perks and demanded he ‘come clean’ about his cut ‘before asking pilots to take up to a 90% pay cut’.

Air Malta Airbs A320-200. Photo by Chris de Breun │ AeroNewsX

Air Malta responded, saying that ALPA had unjustifiably ‘victimised’ the CEO and continued on to say that the Board “unanimously reiterates and reassert its support and trust in the CEO”.

Meanwhile, Economy Ministry Silvio Schembri described the pilot union as trying to ‘hijack’ Air Malta’s success.

Schembri told journalists: “Air Malta isn’t responsible to just the pilots – it is responsible to a wide spread of people, and I will not permit a specific group of people to hijack the airline or make it their own.”

In an interview with AeroNewsX, former Air Malta CEO Philip Micallef, who served the carrier between October 2014 and September 2016 said that while he was surprised by the decisions taken by the management, he had full trust in the CEO.

“I was surprised at the tactics used of the 'one size fits all' measures with regards to staff. I would have favored a different less egalitarian more pragmatic approach. Instead of suggesting the 1200 Euro monthly salary for all would have devised temporary reduction in basic salaries ranging from 30 per cent to 70 per cent exempting the lowest paid employees from this basic salary reduction.”

Micallef continued: “I have a high respect for all my predecessors and successors at Air Malta. Every CEO, in my opinion, acts in good faith and does what he thinks is best for the airline in the circumstances. To answer your question directly, although I do not know him personally, I hold Captain Clifford Chetcuti in high esteem and think he is doing his very best in the circumstances.”

The former CEO also suggested that the staff be temporarily deployed in necessary COVID-19 areas such as logistics, hospitals etc. Micallef went on to say that the pandemic is a difficult situation for everyone and noted how easy it was to dismantle an organisation and how hard it is to rebuild it. Therefore, Micallef called for the airline to avoid job cuts and instead seek financial assistance to allow it to quickly resume normal operations once the situation improves.

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