[EDITORIALS]Stop Airline Strikes at All Costs

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[EDITORIALS]Stop Airline Strikes at All Costs

Following the decision of Asiana Airline's union to go on strike, the pilots' union of Korean Air Lines announced that it would join the general strike on Tuesday, posing the threat of a simultaneous strike by both wings of the industry. A walkout of the KAL pilots would ground the airline's planes entirely. The two airline companies are continuing to negotiate with their unions, while devising contingency plans such as using alternative operators and borrowing planes and services from foreign airlines. The outcome is unclear because the inflexibility of the negotiators for the KAL pilots' union leaves almost no room for compromise.

In Korea, which is surrounded by water on three sides, airlines are as vital as buses and the subway system. Unlike strikes of manufacturers, a walkout of pilots would stop the exchanges of people and goods immediately and affect transportation of vital imports and exports, harming seriously the economic activities and lives of citizens. Moreover, airline strikes would damage Korea's credibility overseas and jeopardize foreign investment. Considering such issues, simultaneous strikes at the two airlines should be prevented at all costs. We urge the unions and management of the two compaines to exert their best efforts up to the last moment in order to reach a compromise.

A strike by the KAL pilots in particular would have no reasonable justification. Pilots and co-pilots are considered a high-income group in Korea, despite the difficulty of their work. Yet, the airline recorded more than 460 billion won ($360 million) of losses last year, and it remains in the red. Although the pilots insist that their demands concern operational safety, not a wage increase, they will certainly benefit from improved welfare and increased allowances as a result of the negotiation. Therefore, they will not avoid public criticism if they join a walkout with such a lame justification. The government should consider designating air travel an essential public business like the railways. Because we have neither alternative means of transportation nor a large number of airlines to compensate for a strike, we need a system to prevent a crisis in which air transport is paralyzed.
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