The days of TUI Travel fighting with airline unions are over, according to Thomson Airways managing director Chris Browne.
Pilots at TUI Travel, which runs the UK’s third largest airline, agreed to take a 5% pay cut to avoid compulsory redundancies in February, which followed the merger of Thomsonfly and First Choice Airways last year.
At the Institute of Travel and Tourism’s Odyssey Supper this week, Browne – the first woman to speak at the regular event – admitted the airline could still be carrying too many pilots for next year, but said the introduction of Boeing 787 aircraft to the fleet would avoid the need for further cuts.
She said: “We may be carrying a few too many [pilots] for next summer, but because we are getting the 787s, that will eat up a lot of man hours in terms of training. I would like to say it was strategic, but it wasn’t.”
Browne admitted it had taken much time and effort to win over the trust of the group’s pilots and agree to a 5% cut, likely to stay in place for the “forseeable future” because of the volatility of the trading environment.
She said: “It was tough at the beginning because there was no trust, but we invested a lot of time and committed to a change agenda. Now there is no in-fighting. Gone are the days when we beat each other up; with a partnership approach, we can make it work. Successful union partnerships are key.”
It is a far cry from when she joined First Choice’s airline, then called Air2000 just after the September 11 attacks in 2001, she said. “I was shocked by how bad the relationship was every time we sat down together – it was like World War Two.”
After the two airlines merged last year over a nine-month period, there were 96 surplus pilot jobs, all of which were at risk after the airline decided to operate 11 fewer aircraft from May 1 this year.
Browne added: “Negotiations went on for months and there were a lot of ‘nos’ initially, but we kept at it. We sat down with them and said we cannot ignore this. The last thing we wanted was to lose jobs.”
Browne had already secured a three-year deal with unions prior to the merger. “I encouraged early dialogue with the unions before we flew together [as one airline], and we reached a three-year agreement with our pilots, which allowed us to get on and run the airlines,” she added.
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