Euroflight closing raises union ire

 - September 20, 2006, 10:55 AM

Euroflight, IBM’s European corporate flight department, will shut down by mid-year, resulting in the sale of its two Dassault Falcon 2000s despite their each logging between 800 and 900 flight hours annually. The unions are negotiating with management on the future of the operation’s 20 permanent employees–including seven pilots and seven maintenance technicians–at its Paris Le Bourget airport base.

A representative for the Euroflight union coordinating committee who spoke to AIN on condition of anonymity said that IBM, the world’s largest computer company, had stopped all its flights before informing the IBM Works Council as it is legally bound to do. Under French law, management is obliged to consult council members–which include both management representatives and union delegates–on all major decisions affecting the workforce, including downsizing.

The operator’s French and U.S. management declined to talk to AIN about the closure of Euroflight, citing ongoing talks with the unions. But operations manager Patrick Labeyrie officially informed the Works Council that the IBM group, which operates two private aviation companies, one for Europe, at Paris Le Bourget, and the other for the U.S., based at White Plains, N.Y., decided to halt Euroflight’s operations because of a “lack of activity.”

He said that IBM’s European corporate flight department has been transporting passengers at only 25 percent of its capacity. A limited number of IBM group executives used Euroflight, and 80 percent of the trips were for internal IBM group meetings, he said.

Euroflight has its own internal structure and economic independence, with a separate cost center outside IBM’s overall activity. Labeyrie said that although the operator’s level of activity had remained stable over the last few years, flight-hour costs were rising while the number of passengers carried was falling. In addition, recent economic developments have shown that the service is no longer adapted to Euroflight’s original mission.

A Plan for Union Workers

The union spokesman said the group had put the Euroflight workforce before a fait accompli. “IBM arbitrarily stopped the flights before consulting the Works Council, showing scant regard for a long-time group of devoted employees.” He said that the economic arguments advanced in favor of the closure do not justify the need to cease Euroflight’s operations, and that the measure is part of a 2005 cost-reduction and restructuring plan at IBM.

He said management is speeding up the consultation procedure, leaving little time for employees to find alternative employment that maintains salary levels and health-care coverage, especially if this is outside France. In the present talks with management, the unions are fighting for no compulsory redundancies and for the workforce to be found alternative employment of equivalent remuneration and working conditions.

At the end of 2003, IBM Euro- flight became the first European corporate flight department to complete the International Standards for Business Aircraft Operations certification process. Cert- ification covers both the European and U.S. flight departments. The two operations’ flight manuals have 95-percent commonality, reflecting the differences in the operational and regulatory environments in which they fly.