October 3, 2017 / 4:24 PM / 2 months ago

Avianca allowed to bring in foreign pilots amid strike-civil aviation

BOGOTA, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Colombia’s civil aviation authority said on Tuesday it will allow Avianca Holdings SA to bring in pilots from overseas to mitigate the effects of a two-week-long strike that has grounded thousands of travelers.

Pilots from the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators, or ACDAC, began the walkout on Sept. 20 and are demanding salary and benefits changes they say will put them on par with the airline’s pilots in other countries. More than 700 of the company’s 1,300 Colombian pilots voted to strike.

The airline has been forced to cancel more than half of its flights on its domestic and international routes, affecting more than 300,000 passengers.

The permission to bring in foreign pilots will last a maximum of 90 days, the civil aviation agency said, and the pilots must have valid licenses in their home countries and undergo Colombian training.

“This is a measure that is available for all of the aeronautic sector, which can be used by any airline at any moment when there is a special circumstance,” Colonel Edgar Sanchez, the acting head of the aviation agency, told Reuters.

How fast the measure will take effect will depend on how quickly airlines comply with the requirements, Sanchez said, and foreign pilots must not represent more than 10 percent of total staff.

Avianca considers its pilots’ demands unreasonable and the strike illegal. Pilots want reduced working hours and for Avianca to pay 70 percent of their monthly taxes, among other things.

“The approval of this request by the civil aviation authority allows us to restart a large part of flights in Colombia,” Avianca’s chief executive, Hernan Rincon, said in a statement, adding that the company was also seeking pilots for flights to and from the Andean nation.

Colombia’s government convened an arbitration court last week to work on the case. ACDAC and Avianca must appoint one arbitrator each and agree on a third or have one appointed. Once installed, the court has 10 working days to resolve the strike but can extend the proceedings for another 10 days.

Avianca, a member of the Star Alliance and one of the leading airlines in Latin America, carried 29.5 million passengers in 2016. It has more than 21,000 employees and serves 105 destinations in 28 countries in the Americas and Europe. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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