The acrimonious pilots dispute at Philippine Airlines (PAL) is about to spill over into the Filipino Supreme Court as the legal mudslinging between sacked pilots and the airline hots up.

The Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines (ALPAP) is suing PAL, accusing it of an illegal lockout. More than 500 pilots tried to return to work following the pilots' strike in June but were told they had left it too late. Management had already sacked more than 600 pilots for defying a return to work order on 9 June.

PAL has always maintained that the strike was illegal, with vice-president Avelino Zapanta quoted as saying: 'We'll see them in court'.

In another twist, six former PAL pilots are suing the ALPAP union chief Sotico Lloren. It is alleged that the pilots' union failed to return the pilots' passports, licences and other essential documents. Without these documents the pilots are unable to fly. The six pilots want to reapply for jobs with PAL after being sacked in June.

The airline claims that ALPAP demanded its entire membership hand over their documents for safe-keeping.

The airline is also being slated for the alleged arbitrary methods used to select 1,400 flight attendants for redundancy. The Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines has filed a complaint with the National Labour Relations Commission.

The massive redundancies follow PAL's decision to reduce its fleet from 54 to 14 aircraft following the pilots' strike in June. Some 654 attendants have been retained by the airline. As the carrier fights for survival, it is operating with only 200 flight personnel and has just 163 pilots on its roster to fly its fleet of 14 aircraft.

Unfortunately for PAL, union discord is not the only hurdle that the carrier needs to overcome. The airline is burdened by financial woes. As one analyst puts it, PAL is 'overloaded with debt'.

PAL announced in June that it is seeking suspension of debt repayments to foreign institutions and aircraft lessors totalling US$2 billion. The airline has had some success - it secured a temporary restraining order in the US from calling in loans but this expires at the end of July. PAL is attempting to achieve the same result in European courts. The analyst says that PAL's record as a good payer should help. Many assets have been returned to creditors.

As well as debt relief, PAL is negotiating with Boeing and Airbus to cancel $780 million worth of orders. Speaking in Manila in June, PAL senior vice-president Jaime Bautista confirmed that the carrier wanted to cancel the purchase of eight Airbus A320-200s for $300 million as well as three Boeing 747-400s.

Source: Airline Business