December 7, 2013
Chile says will stay out of LAN dispute
Airline files injunction request as unions of airport workers vow to strike Thursday
Chile yesterday said it will not intervene in the legal fight between LAN Argentina and airport authorities after the airline was sent an eviction order last week to vacate its Metropolitan Airport hangar within 10 days.
In Buenos Aires, however, the conflict continued as the airline that is part of the LATAM group filed a request for an injunction, while airplane and airport workers’ unions threatened a strike for Thursday if the eviction order moves forward.
LAN employees briefly blocked the Costanera Sur road in front of the Metropolitan Airport, also known as Aeroparque, yesterday, as part of a protest against the hangar eviction.
In Santiago, however, the government seemed determined to cool down speculation that the controversy would lead to a trade dispute with Chile, home of the airline’s major shareholders, which once included billionaire Chilean President Sebastian Piñera.
“The governments (of Argentina and Chile) have decided not to intervene in the commercial relationships of the companies involved. Of course we are interested in the issue, as is Brazil, but our countries have a lot of things to worry about besides just one company,” Chile’s Economy Minister Félix de Vicente said.
Foreign Ministers Héctor Timerman met with his Chilean counterpart, Alfredo Moreno, last week to discuss the LAN situation. Moreno had requested “not to discriminate against” the airline for being a foreign company, a request that was also expressed by Vicente yesterday.
“Countries need to have the same rules for all the actors in the economy. There has to be an equality of opportunities for domestic and foreign companies,” De Vicente said. “That’s how business has to be done so countries can grow.”
LAN Argentina took legal action to appeal the eviction ordered by the ORSNA airport regulator last week. The government’s agency asked LAN and other companies to leave their hangars in Aeroparque within 10 days. Jet companies Mac Air and Tango also appealed ORSNA’s decision and obtained the suspension of the resolution, which could be used as a precedent by the Chilean company.
“We want to keep flying in Argentina and that’s why we need our hangar in Aeroparque,” LAN said in a statement yesterday. “We want to keep growing, creating more jobs and investing in an industry in which rules are the same for everybody. The best thing that can happen to a passenger is to have more and better options to choose from.”
Agustín Agraz, director of Corporate Affairs for LAN, explained that the company started to operate in Argentina “with a rented hangar and then built one, investing US$5 millions with a contract until 2023.”
“We never had any privileges, and we want to compete legally as we do every day. This is a sad situation, because we are all Argentines. We don’t do politics, we fly airplanes,” Agraz said.
A possible strike
Airline unions protested yesterday at Buenos Aires and Tucumán airports and threatened to strike on Thursday if the government goes ahead with LAN’s eviction from Aeroparque hangar. The APTA and ATCPEA unions, whose members include airplane technicians, flight attendants and ground crews, warned that its members will strike because more than 1,000 LAN employees could lose their jobs if the eviction goes through.
“We’ve determined a nationwide strike for all airlines — Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN, Andes and Sol — that will affect international flights,” APTA union leader Ricardo Cirielli said, listing the airlines that operate at Aeroparque. “Having fewer airplanes means having fewer flights, which will lead to fewer jobs.”
Aerolineas Argentinas flies to most of the country’s cities and covers international routes including Madrid, Barcelona, Miami and New York. Sol has flights within Argentina and Uruguay, while Andes has cargo-only routes.
Nevertheless, Paula Marconi, LAN’s union representative, assured that the strike will be cancelled if the government calls off the eviction.
“We want the government to reason and cancel this measure, no matter what the court decides. The only way to not lose jobs is if we are not evicted from the hangar,” Marconi said. “LAN Argentina is an Argentine company, not a foreign one. We are defending Argentine jobs.”
The conflict with Argentina’s government is the latest setback for LATAM, which was formed when Chile’s LAN took over Brazil’s TAM airlines last year. The company announced a quarterly loss of US$330 million last week due largely to currency fluctuations in Brazil, and it was fined US$1 million by Canada in a price-fixing case involving South American cargo shipments. LATAM’s shares have lost more than half their value in the year since the merger.
Herald with AP, Reuters, DyN,Télam