MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Flag-carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) cancelled 11 domestic and international flights on Saturday after several of its pilots "indiscriminately" resigned.
A radio dzMM report said 4 of the cancelled domestic flights were bound for Cebu (PR 843), Cagayan (PR 181), Bacolod City (PR 133) and Iloilo (PR 147).
The other 4 cancelled domestic flights were supposed to arrive from Cebu (PR 344), Cagayan (PR 182), Bacolod (PR 134) and Iloilo (PR 148).
Two flights from Hong Kong to Manila (PR 313 AND PR 319) and another flight bound for Hong Kong (PR 318) have also been cancelled.
In an interview on cable news channel ANC, PAL spokesman Jonathan Gesmundo said all of the cancelled flights involve A320 aircrafts.
"Unfortunately we have had recent indiscriminate resignations of A320 pilots, and we are now faced with inadequate flight deck crew to man A320 aircrafts," Gesmundo said.
He would not say how many pilots have resigned, but assured that "it's just a small number."
Vic Lima, host of radio dzMM program "Tandem", said he received reports that at least 7 pilots resigned from PAL.
Gesmundo said the pilots' resignations had nothing to do with the management's ongoing labor dispute with the Philippine Airlines Employees' Association (PALEA).
He explained that only "ground" personnel are members of the PALEA.
He said the A320 aircraft pilots left PAL because they were poached by foreign-owned airlines. He said the pilots were offered bigger salaries "that we cannot match."
Protest vs outsourcing?
Sources in the PAL employees' union told Agence France-Presse the resignations were in reaction to a plan by the airline to lay off thousands of employees and outsource their positions.
President Benigno Aquino said the government was meeting with PAL management to arrange a new schedule to make up for the lost pilots.
He also said the transport and labour departments would be looking into the matter.
Charges against resigned pilots
In a statement released after the interview, Gesmundo said indiscriminate resignation is a violation of the pilots' contract with PAL, as well as "pertinent government regulations."
Gesmundo said that the pilots should have given PAL 6 months to train their replacements.
"PAL will soon be filing appropriate charges against those pilots who chose not to report for work immediately after submitting resignation letters," he said.
He added: "Most of the pilots still owe PAL the cost of their aviation school training, which run into millions of pesos per pilot."
Gesmundo said that because of the indiscriminate resignation of the pilots, PAL is thinking of temporarily grounding some of its A320 aircrafts.
He said it would take "several months" before other pilots get trained to fly A320 aircrafts.
"It will take several months to train pilots. We have our own school, the PAL Aviation School in Clark," he said.
Meanwhile, Gesmundo said the PAL management has been trying to advise all passengers of the cancelled flights.
He said that the passengers affected by the flight cancellations may be able to leave on Sunday morning flights.
He added that they are thinking of using "bigger" aircrafts for Sunday's flights to accommodate the affected passengers.
"PAL is currently adjusting its schedules by merging some flights or upgrading the aircraft to a bigger type in order to lessen the inconvenience to affected passengers," Gesmundo said.
The local aviation sector has been embroiled in several controversies in recent months such as a shortage of air navigation equipment at Manila airport and growing labour unrest at PAL, the largest domestic carrier. – with reports from Alex Calda, radio dzMM; ANC; Agence France-Presse