Iberia treads fine line between Vueling and pilots' union

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Spanish carrier Iberia is trying to ease mounting tension with pilot union SEPLA over its declining production by recovering some of the routes temporarily operated by Vueling.

But it wants to achieve this without breaking the pact with its low-fare affiliate, in which it holds a 45.85% stake.

Under a July filing with the Spanish stock exchange authority CNMV, Vueling renewed the Madrid flight agreement with Iberia, expecting lower flight activity in the coming winter season as a result of usual seasonal adjustments.

In a separate note today Iberia has confirmed that Vueling will continue to operate all routes under a dual Vueling-Iberia code and provide interline connectivity to Iberia's Barcelona-originating long-haul flights.

An Iberia spokeswoman confirmed that the airline is taking back some of the Airbus A320s temporarily leased to Vueling earlier this year. "Some of the routes that were operated by Vueling during the summer season will be operated in the winter directly by Iberia," she said, citing flights to leisure destinations such as Palma de Mallorca, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

Iberia will also relaunch operations to smaller cities on the Spanish mainland, such as Santander, Pamplona and San Sebastian, until now served mainly by its regional franchise partner Air Nostrum.

While this move to recover some activity for Iberia mainline leaves Iberia's structural cost problem unresolved, it helps to buy time in its negotiations with the pilots.

Iberia's pilots have been airing their discontent about falling production but, at the same time, are rejecting plans to establish an Iberia-branded low-cost operation in Madrid to serve short- and medium-haul routes which are becoming increasingly unviable with the cost structure of the mainline carrier.

According to a SITCPLA flight attendant union source, the only employee group that has not accepted the differentiated working conditions for the 'Iberia Express' low-cost project are the pilots. "Together with the ground personnel, we have done our part to allow Iberia to increase its flight activity and create new employment opportunities", she says.