Eurowings was once brought to Vienna in order to be able to stand up to the low-cost airlines Lauda, Wizz Air and Ryanair in particular on some routes that were taken over from Austrian Airlines at the time. The "experiment" failed and what remains is a base with 150 flying employees, but not a single stationed aircraft.
In the aftermath of the Air Berlin bankruptcy, many Austrian Airlines employees were not at all happy that some tourist routes and individual city routes were handed over to Eurowings Europe, which started flight operations in 2016. It was feared that the AUA could be downsized.
Especially from the point at which Niki was only on the back burner from Vienna, the Air Berlin Group collapsed and then Level, Lauda and Wizz Air ensured strong competition, Eurowings Europe, which was still Austrian at the time, was also sent on an expansion course in Vienna. However, it was not particularly successful, because, like its competitor Level Europe, it never managed to fly into the black and the load factor was also significantly lower than that which Wizz Air and Lauda were able to achieve.
The “experiment” ended in 2019. Only the German routes remain, but these are usually served by Eurowings Germany. The Eurowings Europe base in Vienna was to be active on behalf of Austrian Airlines from now on. But then the corona pandemic came and AUA simply no longer needed wet lease aircraft. But nobody knew that at the time, because the social partners had negotiated a crisis package that included wage cuts in particular. In return, the employees at the Eurowings Europe base in Vienna received an employment guarantee until the end of 2024. But there are hardly any flights from Vienna.
Flying personnel from Vienna are used from other bases
So what do the flight attendants and pilots of the now Maltese Eurowings Europe do all day? Of course they work, but not from Vienna, but from other bases. The Austrian employees are deployed from Graz, Salzburg, Palma de Mallorca, Pristina, Prague and Stockholm-Arlanda. They are flown there at the company's expense, spend a few days in hotels and then return to Vienna after their assignment. That costs the carrier quite a lot of money, but an employment guarantee has just been given.
A spokeswoman for Eurowings explains: “In Vienna it is a Eurowings Europe Ltd. Location, not a base (as well as Malta being the registered office and not a base). We speak of base where aircraft are stationed. In total, we employ around 150 people at Eurowings Europe Ltd. in Vienna in the cockpit, in the cabin and on the ground. Our flying personnel are mainly deployed at our decentralized Austrian bases in Salzburg and Graz, from where our flights are generally operated by our pan-European flight operator Eurowings Europe and managed accordingly".
Charter requests from Vienna are said to have been rejected
When asked, several employees of Eurowings Europe, who were assured of anonymity, said that there were concerns about the expiry of the employment guarantee as to how things would continue. Theoretically, you could change base permanently and stay with the company, but according to those affected, this has a crux: you no longer get the "Austrian salary", but if you move to Prague you are paid according to the Czech tariffs. In Stockholm-Arlanda, on the other hand, there would be even more money, but the jobs there were in great demand and rarely available.
The accusation is also raised that there were numerous charter requests, but that the management of Eurowings Europe rejected them. From Vienna you would not fly in charter. It could be heard on the quiet that no business should be taken away from the sister company Austrian Airlines.
A Eurowings spokeswoman said: “Eurowings flights to/from Vienna, on the other hand, are served from our German bases in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Stuttgart – not the other way around. This corresponds to our orientation as a point-to-point carrier, unlike our sister company Austrian Airlines, which is the hub carrier at the Vienna hub. If one were to switch to managing Eurowings flights from Vienna, the result would be that early morning flights to Vienna (e.g. DUS-VIE) could not be offered, but would start parallel to the existing Austrian Airlines flights from Vienna.
Austrian Airlines sees no need for wet leases
The hopes of the Viennese Eurowings Europe employees, who number around 150, are again with Austrian Airlines. It is hoped that the demand in the 2024 summer flight schedule will be so great that a few Airbus A320s or A319s will be put on wet lease again, so that flights can be taken from home again and the Vienna base has a future even after the employment guarantee has ended.
However, that should only be a kind of straw, because when asked about possible wet leases in the 2024 summer flight schedule, a media officer from Austrian Airlines explained to Aviation.Direct: “In general, the targeted use of wet leases has proven itself in the past to cushion seasonal peaks and will therefore checked as a possible means if necessary. Austrian Airlines can look back on a strong performance in the first half of 2023 and intends to further expand its market position in 2024. The current fleet growth lays the foundation for this. Four new Airbus A320neo are already in service. We are pleased about the forthcoming expansion of the fleet by a further Airbus A320neo and an Airbus A320ceo as well as the planned modernization of the long-haul fleet with ten Boeing 787-9s". In other words: AUA is currently not planning permanent wet leases, regardless of the operating carrier.
Regarding the current status and future of the Eurowings Europe base in Vienna, which the company itself does not want to have described as such because there are around 150 flying employees at Austria's largest airport, but no aircraft, the Eurowings spokeswoman explains: "Factually nothing has changed in the initial situation at the Vienna site. In order to give our employees planning security beyond the agreed job security, we are in dialogue with our social partners, which we generally do not conduct in public. We therefore ask for your understanding that we cannot comment further on this."
In Austria, collective agreements are not negotiated directly with the company
Apart from a few exceptions, collective agreements in Austria are not negotiated and concluded between the trade union and the respective company, but between the professional representatives, i.e. in this specific case the Chamber of Commerce, and the employee representatives. In theory, it would even be possible for Eurowings Europe and other companies to conclude binding agreements without the company having any influence on them. This possibility is not purely coincidental, because with the exception of aviation, there are branch collective agreements almost everywhere in Austria that apply to all employers and employees in the respective branch. This is not the case in aviation, which Vida criticizes at regular intervals.
Since the Vida trade union, as the social partner, also signed the currently valid crisis agreement, it is of course obvious to also ask the employee representatives' point of view. A spokesman initially said: “The employed pilots and flight attendants currently have an employment guarantee. This was created because there is no direct operation from the Vienna station. The affected colleagues are deployed to other stations, such as Graz or Prague. With the end of the corona pandemic, when it was not yet clear how quickly aviation would recover, this employment guarantee made it possible to secure the place of work in Vienna-Schwechat at this critical time, despite the lack of production. In return, a socially graded financial contribution was agreed, which is intended to compensate in part for the additional costs resulting from the maintenance of the Vienna station and thus secure jobs".
Union Vida hopes that there will be no job cuts
The Vida media officer answered the question of whether the Austrian Eurowings Europe employees have received wage increases in the meantime or are still receiving severely reduced "corona salary" as follows: "In the meantime, similar to the AUA, there have been inflation-related factors salary adjustments. In addition, a "free month" was agreed in the collective agreement, which represents a usable reduction in working hours. With this regulation, every employee has one calendar month off, in addition to the normal vacation and OFF days. This free month can be consumed in the winter months. The next inflation-related increase in health insurance is planned for the turn of the year and negotiations on this will start in the foreseeable future."
But how things will generally continue with the Vienna base, which has no aircraft, is not known at the union either. The spokesman said: “What happens next with the Vienna station is a management decision that the union can only influence to a limited extent. As a trade union, we offer our members the necessary legal assistance when needed. Together with our social partner WKÖ, we are trying to find appropriate regulations that offer employees good working conditions, but also take into account the development of the economic framework. So far we have been able to prevent active job cuts - especially in the critical Corona period. These regulations are evaluated at regular intervals”.