Argentina: State Controlled Airline Continues to Prevent Any Competition

While many Latin American nations have embraced competition, the powerful union of Aerolineas Argentinas has successfully thwarted the arrival of low cost airlines in Argentina.

Aviation in Argentina is expensive and inconvenient, thanks to powerful unions which squelch competition (Twitter).

The administration of Mauricio Macri is ending its first term with few achievements, a fact which he is trying to obscure through public relations spin. One of the radio spots of his re-election campaign refers, in the voice of the president himself, suggests that the country is now more inter-connected by aviation. “You no longer have to go through Buenos Aires to fly to another city of the country,” he claims in the propaganda of the ruling party.

Although the country is far from having an optimal commercial aviation policy (there are still no open skies, and their anti-competitive regulations and price controls), state airline Aerolineas Argentinas is no longer the only option for some domestic destinations. And the union, as expected, has now declared war. On more than one occasion the “workers” have decided to fail to show up for work, thereby complicating the lives of many passengers, especially at “strategic” times, such as on weekends.

Unfortunately, in these cases of abuse there is no official response. No employees are punished or dismissed. There is a feeling of total impunity which the union takes advantage of. But as if arrogance and stoppages were not enough, the union now uses official airline communications to read trade union proclamations. Passengers, still sitting and wearing seat belts, have to listen.

A serious incident has already taken place in Argentina, when a pilot refused to read the statement. He suffered union threats and had to suspend the flight. This week, the liberal economist Roberto Cachanosky reopened the debate when he noted on social media that a union statement was heard on the intercom on a flight to La Rioja denouncing the “politics” of the current government.

The economist was heading to Chilecito, a city just a few miles from the capital of La Rioja, to give a lecture. In a conversation with the PanAm Post he acknowledged that he would have liked the opportunity to speak with the captain to discuss the situation, but unfortunately his busy schedule prevented him from doing so. He did not, however, want to let the opportunity go to waste, so he shared the announcement with his Twitter followers.

The announcement

“Hello, this is the captain speaking. Having arrived in our destination, we want to inform you about the situation that Argentine pilots face. As a result of the current aviation policy, today we have companies that cannot pay salaries, that have suspended their operations, that reduce the salaries of pilots, reduce the frequencies of routes, and limit destinations. Given this situation that threatens thousands of jobs in the country, we extend our commitment to continue defending Argentine aviation. The skies also belong to each of you. Of course, we appreciate your understanding,” says the message repeated by the union pilots upon landing.

The general secretary of the Airline Pilots Association (APLA) acknowledged that they will continue reading the statement and that they do not rule out continuing with the surprise stoppages: “We will not rule out any measures. We are going to the airports to talk to the passengers, as we have been doing for a long time. We are going to continue with this information campaign by reading the statement on the airplanes. I am not going to tell the comrades ‘we lost the fight’; we are going to continue fighting,” said union secretary Pablo Biró.

The Argentine state airline has fiercely resisted the arrival of low cost airlines and any competition, while most other South and Central American countries have made great advances with opening up their markets to new competition. This has led to dramatically reduced prices in the region, as airlines like Wingo and Viva Air have increased routes both domestically, and internationally.

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