Spanish pilot strike threatens to paralyse aviation sector this summer

by Lorraine Williamson
aviation sector

MADRID – The aviation sector in Spain faces a potentially tumultuous summer, with a nationwide pilot strike threatening to cripple the industry.  

This assessment was provided to by Reclamio, a claims management company. A strike of this size could significantly disrupt summer mobility, which is typically the peak travel period. The Spanish Pilots Federation (SEPLA) raised the prospect of a general strike last Friday. This protest is aimed against the minimum service stipulations set in recent strikes, like those affecting Air Europa. 

The strike date still to be decided 

Several Spanish and foreign airline pilots support a 24-hour strike and await the decision of the Spanish Union of Aviation Pilots (Sepla) to establish the date. Other groups, such as cabin crew (TCP), are also expected to join the strike. Sepla, representing nearly 7,000 pilots, indicates the minimum service measure will only impact pilots of airlines such as;

  • Iberia
  • Iberia Express
  • Vueling
  • Iberia Regional/Air Nostrum
  • Air Europa
  • EasyJet
  • Ryanair
  • Norwegian
  • Eurowings
  • Plus Ultra Airlines
  • Iberojet
  • Swiftair

Additional aviation sector strikes 

The proposed strike would join ongoing strikes at Air Nostrum, where pilots are indefinitely striking, and Air Europa, whose technical crew have declared eight additional strikes on the following days in May;

  • 22
  • 23
  • 25
  • 26
  • 29
  • 30

And also these dates in June 1 and 2 at all Spanish bases and work centres. 

Alarming domino effect 

Noemí Fernández, manager at Reclamio, outlines a worrying scenario: “The domino effect caused by a single flight delay due to an airline strike is significant. Other scheduled flights are also disrupted, leaving little room to recover punctuality.” 

ASSSA - health insurance in Spain

Flight cancellations: A greater concern 

Fernández further warns that flight cancellations are even more damaging and serious. During the high season, most other flights are probably already 95% full, making reseating all passengers a challenging task. Often, it means passengers are left stranded, potentially ruining vacations and preventing people from returning home. If these situations recur daily due to a prolonged strike, the sector could entirely collapse. 

A surge in aviation claims expected 

Even before SEPLA expressed this threat, Reclamio already anticipated a 140% increase in aviation claims in the second quarter of 2023, compared to the same period from April to June 2022. The situation could deteriorate further if SEPLA’s threat becomes a reality. 

Travel agencies and tour operators disgruntled 

The Federation of Spanish Travel Agencies (FETAVE) has voiced disapproval of the impending strike, writes Hosteltur. FETAVE regards these as “blackmail against citizens who wish to exercise their constitutionally protected right to mobility”, a right they believe is as protected as the right to strike. 

The association deems the strike as a disproportionate measure that will harm not only the airline employees but also the entire tourism industry. With over 80% dependency on air transport and the severe economic aftermath of the pandemic, the tourism sector hopes to return to 2019 levels by 2023. 

FETAVE states, “We cannot be subject to the whims of a union like SEPLA or the unjustified and unrelated threats issued by that union.” 

Consequently, FETAVE holds SEPLA responsible for the damage this “questionably legal” strike could inflict on the tourism industry. 

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