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Scandinavian Airlines pilots’ strike causes more than 200 flight cancellations

Jan M Olsen

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Scandinavian Airlines filed for bankruptcy in the United States on Tuesday, warning that a strike by 1,000 pilots a day earlier had jeopardized the airline’s future.

The move increases the likelihood of travel chaos across Europe as the summer holidays begin. SAS canceled hundreds of flights Tuesday, including flights to New York (Newark) and Chicago.

Stockholm-based airline group SAS said it has “voluntarily filed in the US for Chapter 11, a financial restructuring lawsuit being conducted under the supervision of a US federal court.”

The filing of Chapter 11 filings in New York puts the civil litigation on hold while the company reorganizes its finances.

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SAS said its operations and flight schedule will not be affected by the announcement, but the pilots’ strike behind most of Tuesday’s cancellations is also a factor in the bankruptcy filing, according to SAS CEO Anko van der Werff. “I think we made it very clear that this could happen,” he said.

FILE - SAS planes are grounded at Oslo Gardermoen Airport during pilot strikes in Oslo on Friday, April 26, 2019.

“It is important that this is about insolvency protection, not bankruptcy, but financial reconstruction,” said van der Werff.

The airline said it was “in well-advanced discussions with a number of potential lenders … to support its operations during this court-supervised process.”

A rescue plan presented in February should ensure long-term competitiveness. SAS shares fell more than 9% on Tuesday to 0.56 kroner ($0.05).

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The pilots reacted strongly to the news of the Chapter 11 filing. Roger Klokset, chairman of the SAS pilots union, said the group “had dragged negotiations and mediation from November last year to the day before the filing, without ever receiving the To have intended to reach an agreement with the SAS pilots.”

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Pilots in Denmark, Sweden and Norway dropped out on Monday, citing inadequate pay and working conditions and expressing dissatisfaction with the airline’s decision to hire new pilots to fill vacancies at its subsidiary airlines SAS Link and SAS Connect, rather than reinstate previous ones to hire pilots laid off because of the pandemic.

Van der Werff said the strike was “devastating for SAS, putting the future of the company at stake along with the jobs of thousands of colleagues”.

As of 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, more than 75% of SAS flights had been canceled, according to FlightAware, which tracks real-time flight information. Flights operated by SAS Link, SAS Connect and SAS external partners will not be affected.

The airline is partly owned by the governments of Sweden and Denmark. In 2018, Norway sold its stake but holds debt in the airline and has said it may be ready to convert it into equity.

“At the moment it is difficult to assess the relevance of the Chapter 11 motion for the duration of the pilot strike,” said chief analyst Jacob Pedersen of Denmark’s Sydbank. However, “it is questionable whether it will bring (the pilots) back to the negotiating table.”

SAS’ move was “not surprising” but came “quicker than expected,” Pedersen said in an analysis. “Although SAS is now under bankruptcy protection, it’s no beach vacation for the company.”

The SAS strike isn’t the only problem looming for European travelers until the end of this summer. Fuel crews at London’s Heathrow Airport announced they too would go on strike for 72 hours from July 21.

Featuring: Jari Tanner, AP; Zach Wichter, USA TODAY