ANILA, Philippines—More flights of Philippine Airlines (PAL) have been canceled as its dispute with a group of pilots who resigned for higher-paying jobs abroad has yet to be resolved.
A meeting called by President Benigno Aquino III to end the dispute ended in a deadlock Monday night. Another meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Malacañang.
PAL on Monday said two to three domestic flights would be canceled every day for the rest of the week due to the lack of pilots for the carrier’s fleet of Airbus A320 and A319 jets.
Since Friday, around 35 domestic and international flights have been disrupted after 25 pilots left PAL.
Thousands of passengers, including one who almost missed his wedding in Iloilo, were among those affected.
Businesswoman Beverly “Pangging” Rosales said she was among the Iloilo-bound passengers forced to stay overnight in Manila on Sunday after PAL Flight PR-147 set at 6:35 p.m. was canceled.
Two more round-trip flights, to Iloilo and Bacolod from Manila, were again canceled on Monday due to the pilot shortage.
“Most passengers are being accommodated in later flights,” said Jaime Bautista, PAL president and chief operating officer.
Bautista said the early announcement of the “planned” cancelations was meant to minimize the inconvenience that the labor dispute has caused passengers.
The string of cancelations, affecting over 1,300 passengers every day, has prompted the government to intervene to help thresh out the issues between the pilots and the airline’s management.
Because of the deadlock, Malacañang is seeking to resolve the conflict within the week, indicating that government can take over the airline in case discussions bogged down.
“I think they are aware of that without us having to say it,” Transportation Secretary Ping de Jesus said at a briefing in Malacañang shortly after the meeting ended at around 6:30 Monday night.
Asked how long the government was willing to wait until it took a more drastic action, he said: “Let’s wait.”
Tourism, trade, reputation
De Jesus said the government made it clear to both parties that the dispute would “affect trade, tourism and ultimately, our reputation.”
“This is the matter we are putting before both the pilots and the PAL management, (for them) to be aware that this has serious consequences unless it’s resolved,” he said.
De Jesus offered to resolve the problem, partly by assuring pilots to return to work without punitive action from the airline management.
“We try to invite back those who have left—some of them left the country, some are still here—and we will try to talk to them, convince them to go back without any sanctions,” he said.
He expressed the hope that with good faith from both sides, “we will find resolution.”
He said the main objective was to “try to stem the tide of exodus of pilots to foreign airlines.”
Lance Gokongwei invited
Malacañang invited Lance Gokongwei, president and chief executive officer of Cebu Pacific, at Monday’s meeting to explore ways his airline could cover flights for PAL.
“However, we were made to understand that this was not possible because even Cebu Pacific is fully stretched. They all have their hands full,” De Jesus said.
How it started
The Association of Pilots in the Philippines (Alpap) said the string of pilot resignations stemmed from PAL’s previous moves to transfer part of its 150-seat A320 fleet to sister company Air Philippines.
Air Philippines operations are being beefed up to allow the company to go head to head with rival Cebu Pacific, which already corners majority of the domestic air travel industry.
PAL pilots were also allegedly forced to move to the smaller firms where the salaries were smaller.
A total of 11 senior captains and seven junior officers were affected by PAL’s move.
Fearing for the security of their own jobs, young pilots looked for jobs elsewhere to avoid suffering the same fate of some of their colleagues.
“We just want to present the side of the pilots to the government,” Alpap president Elmer Peña said in an interview.
The main issue that needs to be resolved, he said, was the move involving Air Philippines.
“That is where this all started,” he said.
PAL on Sunday said it had ordered the resigned pilots to report back for work before the end of the week, or risk facing criminal and administrative charges for causing disruptions to the airline’s operations.
So far, none of the pilots, who were said to have been lured by higher salaries offered by some Middle East and Asian carriers, have come back.
Rosales said she only knew of the cancelation of the flight when she arrived at the check-in counter at around 5 p.m.
“I was surprised because the weather was fine. They only informed us of the lack of pilots when we were already at the airport,” Rosales told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Monday.
After staying overnight in a hotel courtesy of the airline, Rosales said she and the other passengers had to wake up at 2:30 a.m. to take a 5 a.m. flight to Iloilo.
“It was, of course, an inconvenience but this does not happen every day. But it would have been better if we were informed earlier,” she said.
Rosales said that among her fellow passengers was an overseas Filipino worker from Kuwait who was going to Pototan town in Iloilo for his wedding with his longtime girlfriend.
“He was anxious because the wedding was set at 10 a.m. of Monday in Pototan and he would have missed it if there were further delays,” Rosales said.
Rosales and the other passengers arrived past 6 a.m. at the Iloilo airport on Monday and the groom planned to go straight to his wedding in Pototan, around an hour’s ride from the airport.
In Bacolod, PAL manager Fernando Bermejo said the airline canceled PR 136, flying out of Bacolod for Manila at 6:45 p.m. Monday because it was a lean month.
There were three other PAL flights from Bacolod to Manila that would continue, he said.
Cebu Pacific also has flights serving Bacolod.
The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said the country must brace for a tourism crisis if the row between the PAL management and its pilots was not immediately resolved.
“It’s affecting us. There were cancelations of flights without advance notice. Tourism will surely suffer,” said MIAA General Manager Angel Honrado.
He said that although the MIAA had no control over the labor dispute, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was severely affected.
“Considering PAL occupies the entire NAIA Terminal 2, a huge percentage of passengers’ volume comes from them,” Honrado said.
Paolo Montecillo, Christian V. Esguerra, Phil. Daily Inquirer