CAIRO — When the wave of factional sit-ins and strikes subsided in Egypt, 250 Egyptian pilots resigned collectively from EgyptAir on May 6, causing yet another crisis to flare up in the country. This move is a threat to Egyptian air traffic, as the resigned pilots constitute almost one-third of the company’s 850 pilots. Another group of pilots is also threatening to leave the airline.
In this context, Sherif al-Manawi, the spokesman of the Egyptian Pilots Association, said in the ONTV program “Manshet” on May 6 that the resignation came in protest against the new financial regulations approved by EgyptAir management. The same statement was reiterated by Ali Rushdi, a member of the association’s board of directors, in a press statement on May 7.
Ahmed Younes, another member of the Egyptian Pilots Association board of directors, told Al-Monitor, “According to the new financial regulations, vacations, days off and sick leaves will be deducted from the pilots’ salaries, should their direct manager not approve them. Further deductions will be made in case pilots do not complete 55 hours of service a month, disregarding any exceptional conditions such as aircraft malfunctions or canceled flights. Thus, completing the required number of hours is a difficult task to achieve.”
Furthermore, as per the new regulations, a pilot's salary is reduced by 50% should he fail to attend any of the training courses organized by EgyptAir, with no exceptions for any kind of emergency.
The Salary Comparison website wrote that, according to the Bureau and Labor and Statistics (BLS), the median airline and commercial pilot salary in 2012 was $98,410.
Younes said that the salary increase of EgyptAir pilots does not reflect a fair estimation of the pilots' experience in comparison to other international airlines. "The previous statistics showed the salaries only, not the full income. Other than the salaries, international airlines pay [their pilots] compensation enough [to cover] the pilots’ stay abroad, while EgyptAir pays very [little] compensation," he said.
Younes added, “Our income is one-third less than any pilot’s income in any international company. Our total income including all benefits and compensation does not exceed $6,000 per month for the most experienced pilots. However, most of our paycheck is spent on accommodation as pilots spend a lot of time abroad, where accommodation and living expenses are four to five times higher than in Egypt. … We did not call for any raise because we are well aware of the economic situation of EgyptAir, and the general economic situation [in Egypt]. However, the new financial regulations have led to major deductions in our paychecks, which are no longer sufficient to pay for our long stays abroad or to meet our families’ needs at home.”
Younes also criticized EgyptAir management and the Ministry of Civil Aviation for their stance on how to deal with the collective pilots' resignation. He said that both bodies tried to tarnish the image of the pilots and to pit the community against them.
Hisham al-Nahas, head of EgyptAir, said in a press statement that the pilots who resigned wanted to see their salaries increased from $10,000 to $15,000.
For his part, Younes described these statements as completely unfounded. “We did not resign to pressure the management to increase our salaries but to demand the amendment of the financial regulations. We are not getting paid as much as EgyptAir and the Ministry of Civil Aviation claim,” he said.
Al-Monitor contacted Abdul Azim Sidqi, the media adviser of the Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal, to comment on Younes’ statement, but he refused to do so, saying, “The crisis ended when all pilots reneged on their resignation. There is no need to reopen closed issues.”
It should be noted that the pilots reneged May 8 on their resignation and said in a statement that they had backtracked on their decision at the request of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the 17th educational seminar on May 7 at the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Sisi requested that they resume their work and to hold their breath a little longer until EgyptAir overcomes its financial crisis.
“We reneged on our resignation out of respect for Sisi’s request. However, we insist on having the financial regulations amended,” Younes said.
He also mentioned that there has been procrastination in the procedures of the amendments, which could lead to another crisis between the pilots and the EgyptAir management and the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Ashraf Abdul Baqi, the head of the Egyptian Civilian Pilots Syndicate (EGYCPS), told Al-Monitor, “EGYCPS has adopted the pilots’ demands and believe they are fair and just. The syndicate is currently following up on the issue with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, EgyptAir and the Egyptian Pilots Association, which might take a while to meet these demands. EGYCPS has already started to study the legal steps to take to support pilots and achieve their demands.”
Younes also criticized EgyptAir management and said it has failed to develop in order to place the Egyptian airline in its rightful place. He added that the management is only concerned with setting forth new financial regulations undermining the rights of pilots, instead of seeking to develop a new aircraft fleet, “which has been under development since the 1990s.”
“The lifespan of the EgyptAir aircraft has expired and [aircraft] are currently breaking down more frequently,” Younes said.
He added, “Certain damages to the aircraft are not a threat to the lives of the passengers or pilots, as those [faults] are repaired before take-off. However, this is causing the company to incur losses that cost more than purchasing new planes."
On May 8, Nahas announced that EgyptAir has concluded an agreement to buy a new fleet of aircraft. Younes commented on this statement, saying that “the two producing companies are Airbus and Boeing and they usually post on their websites the concluded agreement on selling aircraft.”
Neither website shows an agreement to this effect so far.
“Large airplanes are in high demand. EgyptAir need at least two years before being able to purchase any aircraft — the time needed by Airbus and Boeing to produce and sell their already agreed-upon products,” Younes said.
The EgyptAir crisis is the product of a general lack of satisfaction vis-a-vis the management of EgyptAir and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, with the new financial regulations escalating the situation further. While Sisi’s intervention might have calmed the situation for now, the “procrastination” in implementing the amendments might lead to a stalemate or further complications to the situation.
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