Deadlocked talks between Morocco’s airline and pilots take their toll on passengers

RAM hired foreign pilots and rented aircraft for its scheduled 68 flights to carry 16,000 Moroccan pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
Sunday 12/08/2018
Passing turbulence. A Royal Air Maroc 787 Dreamliner jet sits on the tarmac.                                  (Reuters)
Passing turbulence. A Royal Air Maroc 787 Dreamliner jet sits on the tarmac. (Reuters)

CASABLANCA - Morocco’s national airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) is bearing the brunt of a pilots’ strike ahead of the busy haj season. More than 200 flights have been cancelled, raising passengers’ fury.

RAM has been going through turbulent times in its busiest period since the strike began July 18. Negotiations between RAM and the Moroccan Association of Airline Pilots (AMPL) have been deadlocked since the beginning of August after months-long talks failed to reach an agreement over the association’s demands.

RAM CEO Abdelhamid Addou lamented the lack of willingness to reach a compromise, stressing that the strike would have a “devastating effect” on the company.

AMPL denied that pilots were on strike, saying they “perform their missions, namely their flights as well as their penalty payments as provided for in their monthly flight schedules established by the Royal Air Maroc Company in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.”

“The RAM is asking us to scale revaluations, even for new pilots. This can create inequality in terms of salaries,” the pilots said.

AMPL is demanding a rise in wages, increase of monthly holidays from four to five days, in line with foreign pilots working for the company, and a reduction of flying hours.

Several pilots posted a message on their Facebook pages stating that their major demand was the reopening of the National School of Pilots to increase their numbers to an adequate level. They said the school provided excellent training “free of charge.”

“We refuse that the training becomes paid for — more than 1 million dirhams! ($110,000) — and is thus accessible only to the wealthy. If that had been the case 25 years ago, I would never have been able to attend it and I would never have become a pilot. I will fight with all my strength so that other bright children without great financial means can have the same luck,” said the message.

In 2014, the government forced RAM to close the school, which trained 40-60 pilots a year. The national carrier recruited foreigners and delegated pilot training to the National School of Civil Aviation in Toulouse, France.

Many pilots have been lured by Gulf airline companies’ offers, leaving RAM understaffed.

The struggling airline is allowing affected passengers to postpone their trips before August 15 at no cost or a ticket refund if the flight is cancelled.

Flight cancellations sparked passengers to take to social media to remark on RAM’s “incompetence.”

“Regarding the cancelled flights, I called this morning to ensure that my flight is not cancelled. The lady told me not to worry and to take another flight before August 15 free of charge. They’re fooling people. And the hotels that I booked without cancellation who will pay them for me?” wrote Hanane Mejjati on RAM’s Facebook page.

Another RAM passenger said he was at the Rome airport when his flight was cancelled and there was nobody to contact for help on the spot.

RAM hired foreign pilots and rented aircraft for its scheduled 68 flights to carry 16,000 Moroccan pilgrims to Saudi Arabia to perform the haj. The national carrier will use Moroccan cabin crew to provide services to passengers aboard its chartered aircraft.

Local media quoted protesting pilots as saying the haj trips will not affect their protest movement against RAM and that “they are not currently engaged in any strike action.”

Saudi Arabian Airlines has said it would fly 16,000 Moroccan pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

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