Air Malta has made half of its pilots redundant, saying that it was unable to match the “unreasonable” demands made by the union representing them.

The 69 redundancies, announced late on Friday in a statement, come after weeks of negotiations between the airline and pilots’ union ALPA.

Air Malta said that while other unions representing other members of its workforce “understood the need to accept changes required to safeguard their livelihood,” ALPA had refused to do so during a flurry of meetings.

The Economy Ministry provided more detail, claiming that the union had insisted on a €73 million early retirement buyout, equivalent to €700,000 per pilot.

Air Malta planes have been grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic and the airline, like others in the aviation sector, has been forced to slash costs to remain afloat.

Talks between pilots and airline management had reached an acrimonious stage in April when Economy Minister Silvio Schembri accused ALPA of trying to “hijack” the airline after refusing to accept a pay cut to €1,200 a month until normal operations resumed.

The airline had at the time said it was planning to make 108 of its 134 pilots redundant. Talks between both sides went on for weeks, with a deadline extended three times.

During negotiations, pilots pointed to a 2018 side agreement which guaranteed them a job at their same salary should they lose their job with the airline.

Decimated routes

Commercial flights at Malta's airport are due to resume as of July 1, although aviation insiders have warned that up to half of the country's air routes have been decimated.

Malta International Airport CEO Alan Borg has said that around 70 of the airport's 120 winter 2020/2021 routes have been cancelled as well as around 60 of MIA's 144 summer 2021 routes.

According to Air Malta's post-coronavirus business plan, the airline is planning to operate up to five aircraft by the summer of 2021. 

Air Malta has managed to strike deals with other members of its workforce, including cabin crew. As part of the agreement, cabin crew will be paid according to the hours flown, rather than receiving a guaranteed take-home pay regardless of the hours actually worked.

“The government recognises and thanks the other unions representing the remainder of Airmalta's employees, for accepting the necessary changes to the collective agreements, required to safeguard their employment and the airline,” the Economy Ministry said, adding that it was committed to supporting the airline and its employees.  

“Air Malta will continue to operate and remains committed to ensure sufficient connectivity for the tourism industry to its core routes, and its sustainability to the benefit of its workforce and the Maltese economy.”

The decision to make 69 pilots redundant comes just one week after Ryanair subsidiary Malta Air, which is also part-owned by the Maltese government, announced that 60 of its pilots and cabin crew would be losing their jobs.

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