PX should reconsider sackings

Editorial

It takes a few years to make one experienced airline pilot but the national airline, Air Niugini Limited, has sacked not one, but eight in a day.
Last Thursday, on the eve of the country’s 41st Independence anniversary, the Air Niugini management served termination notices to the eight captains and first officers, including one of their most experienced pilots who is soon to retire – for allegedly taking part in a “politically-motivated” stop work in July.
That pilot, Capt Joe Kumasi, described the termination of the eight as a big loss to the country given the amount of time and money spent on training them.
The airline and the country, according to Kumasi, have lost four sets of experienced flight crew.
What the national airline has done would have been a normal management procedure except that the circumstances leading to the terminations were not a simple industrial or company disciplinary matter as such.
The company management alleged that the eight pilots had “reported sick” to join university students, unions and professional bodies in boycotts aimed at forcing Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to step down in July.
The university students had been boycotting a few weeks earlier and who were later joined by unions and professionals, including those in the aviation sector whose spokesperson was another experienced PNG pilot Cap James Makop.
We do not know for certain whether Air Niugni pilots, as part of the aviation fraternity, had actually joined the stop work as proposed by Makop.
While the university students had collectively boycotted classes, unions and profession groups, on the other hand, were less enthusiastic and remained largely divided or saw no reason to be part of the move that backfired on many.
Hence, when there was a “sudden increase” in the number of national pilots reporting sick around about the time of the boycotts and stop work, one would wonder if those pilots were genuinely sick.
Air Niugini chief executive officer Simon Foo said at around the time of the boycotts and stop work, the airline had experienced an unusual increase of national pilots reporting sick and therefore unable to attend work.
The sudden increase in the number of national pilots reporting sick and unable to attend to work from July 13 to 20 affected Air Niugni flights, the CEO said.
The airline customers were greatly affected during this period and the company experienced numerous flight delays and cancellations.
Consequently, Air Niugini’s image and branding was severely tarnished, losing valued customers to the opposition airlines both domestically and internationally and incurring significant financial loss.
The sacked eight pilots have lost their jobs and in the immediate future, they and their families would be affected by the loss of secure employment.
The company itself is left with eight, perhaps, more vacancies, it might find quite difficult to fill quickly.
The loss of these eight pilots and others who may have voluntarily quit, has affected the airline’s operations.
There is already a shortage of pilots and the number of cancelled or delayed flights currently experience, could be attributed to that.
Capt Kumasi says Air Niugini does not have enough pilots to fly its aeroplanes and recruiting pilots, especially expatriates, is easier said than done.
One of the reasons, again from the experienced Air Niugini pilot, is that the conditions offered by the company might not be comparable to those offered by other similar airlines elsewhere.
As Air Niugini has conceded, what led to the terminations was a political move which was not done in isolation.
University students, who have in fact started the July protests, have been pardoned and allowed to return to class.
Likewise, the pilots should be given another opportunity at their jobs.
We call on the minister responsible to intervene and speak with the company management to reinstate the sacked pilots.
The company has already lost a number of pilots to competing airlines and the loss of another eight will affect its operations and the delayed or cancelled flights may already be a result of that.

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