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[Editorial] First ever airline pilots' strike in Korea

Posted October. 22, 2000 02:57,   


Airline pilots are now on strike, the first ever pilots' walkout in the history of Korean aviation. This is something that we thought would not occur in Korea but only in other countries.

The pilots' strike of Korean Air (KAL) Sunday resulted in cancellations of many scheduled domestic and international flights, which caused enormous inconvenience for customers with reservations for KAL flights.

Of particular concern here is the fact that the strike by some 500 pilots this time may become a cause for possible safety hazards for the airline. Compared with strikes in the manufacturing sectors, walkouts in airlines can have enormous ripple effects in society. We should like to ask KAL management and the pilots' union whether they made the utmost efforts to prevent the strike from looming large since the union's establishment in May.

According to KAL estimates, its losses in sales per day would in amount to an average of 20 billion won. In the case of strikes in manufacturing sectors, the losses in production can to some extent be recovered by subsequent overtime work. In the case of airlines, however, the customers once lost are lost for good. The airline pilots' walkouts in France during the World Cup event in 1998 incurred some 260 million dollars in sales losses for the French airliners.

In view of worsening conditions for profit making due to the recent hike in crude oil prices and collateral spending reduction, any elongation of the pilots' strike can have a critical effect on the

airliner. The worsening business management will inevitably have an impact on degrading service and safety. KAL's losses from its tarnished image due to the strike will by no means be small.

The agenda to negotiate an agreement between KAL management and the pilots' union contains the issue of a pilot's flying hours. It states that both parties will try to make efforts to limit the flying hours to 75 per month. During peak times, KAL pilots are often required to fly 100 hours per month due to the shortage of well-trained pilots. KAL should have made steps to reduce the overly demanding flying hours before the pilots' strike.

The nation's two flag carriers, KAL and the Asiana, need to recruit at least 250 new pilots per year. But they can secure only 150 through their own training programs as well as retiring air force pilots. This falls far too short of meeting the required number of pilots.

The KAL pilots' union demanded the steady reduction of foreign pilots and the freezing of their new recruitment. The union claims that the overhead cost for a foreign pilot amounts to 150,000 dollars per year and that the problems of communications with foreign pilots reduce the ability to meet emergencies.

The union's demand has some persuasive merit, but it appears inevitable to employ foreign pilots in the face of limited domestic supplies of airline pilots. The government should learn a lesson from the strike that pilots' training should not solely be left to the civilian aviation industries. The government's heightened concern and policies are called for pilot training.