Avianca Pulls Deal at Midnight as Colombia Strike Drags On

Updated on
  • Airline has canceled about 250 flights a day on pilot strike
  • Avianca arguing strike is illegal as it awaits court ruling

Avianca SA ended talks with Colombian pilots after withdrawing a new wage proposal just hours after it was made, leaving the courts to decide on the legality of a weeklong strike that has grounded 250 flights a day.

The airline presented its offer at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in talks organized by Colombia’s Labor Ministry, then yanked it minutes after midnight when pilots didn’t immediately agree, according to Colombian union Acdac. Avianca said in a statement the offer represented its "final proposal" to end a walkout that it considers illegal. The company refiled a suit on Wednesday against the strike.

"Now it’s the courts who will decide," Chairman German Efromovich said in an interview with Blu Radio. He said the company was working to transport passengers by bringing in two planes plus crew members from Brazil, with another three or four aircraft scheduled to arrive in the next few days.

About 700 pilots, or half the pilots in the Colombian subsidiary, began their protest Sept. 20. The union said it analyzed Tuesday’s proposal and found that some points that had been agreed upon in previous negotiations were modified. It asked to review the offer with its members but was denied.

"This strike has lasted as long as it has because management hasn’t wanted to reach an agreement, and when we were close to reaching one, they stood up from the table and left," union President Jaime Hernandez said at a press conference. "What they did was subject the country to a burnout that’s not worth it, all for a matter of egos."

Hernandez said the union had been able to reach agreements with the company on several points in talks arranged by the ministry, and asked for Avianca to sit down again. The disagreement with the company wasn’t just about salaries but also about pilot fatigue. Hernandez said the carrier ended up cancelling about 30 flights when pilots started refusing to fly as rest conditions weren’t being met.

The shares have declined 8 percent to $7.62 in New York trading since the union voted in favor of a strike on Sept. 15.

Avianca had to refile to suit today to fix format errors that had caused the court to not admit the motion made on Monday. The company is arguing that Colombian law forbids those offering essential services from striking, while also saying there were problems with the strike vote because only pilots weighed in rather than all employees.

— With assistance by Oscar Medina

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