In an unprecedented announcement, the Argentinean unions of airline mechanics (APTA) and flight crews (ATCPEA) have announced a strike for 29 August to protest against the eviction of LAN Argentina from its maintenance hangar at Buenos Aires' downtown Aeroparque airport.
The Argentinean government is forcing LATAM Airlines Group's local subsidiary, LAN Argentina, to abandon its Aeroparque maintenance hangar by 31 August, only 10 days after formally notifying the airline of its decision airport regulator ORSNA.
LAN says that it holds a valid lease contract for the hangar until 2023 and that it recently invested $5 million into its renewal.
Several union leaders condemned the government decision, generally interpreted as a wider plan of protecting state-owned, loss-making flag carrier Aerolineas Argentinas against highly efficient domestic competitors.
The president of APTA, Ricardo Cirielli, the controversial former sub-secretary of transport under the presidency of Nestor Kirchner, the husband of current president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, says: "We are not asking for subsidies or government support. We just ask the government to let us work and keep our jobs."
During a press conference the leaders of APTA and ATCPEA called the government decision to leave LAN without a maintenance facility at its home base "crazy" and "hurtful for Argentina", estimating that "up to 3,000" direct and indirect jobs are at risk if the measure is finally enforced.
On 26 August, the unions staged a brief protest at Aeroparque, cutting off access to the airport for half an hour. While it is still unclear to what extend the Thursday strike announcement will impact actual flight operations, the union leaders predict that "both domestic and international flights [at Aeroparque] will be massively affected".
Other unions says that they will not participate in this strike call, but will join the protests should the situation created by the government provoke any dismissals.
LAN itself is in the process of obtaining a court order to avoid the eviction on the basis that it holds a valid long term contract. However, in May, government-owned handling monopoly Intercargo ignored another court order when it stopped servicing LAN aircraft in order to demand, ultimately successfully, an extra payment on top of the amount defined by LAN's active long-term service contract.