By Gokhan Ergocun and Tuba Sahin
ANKARA (AA) – Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair's pilots went on strike Friday in five countries to enforce improvements in pay and working conditions.
The strike, which started at 03.01 am on Friday, will end at 02.59 am on Saturday, in Germany, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Cancellations of flights due to the strike are expected to affect over 55,000 passengers.
Among the five countries, the strike will hit Germany the worst with 42,000 passengers.
Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), the association of airline pilots and flight engineers in Germany, on Wednesday called on all pilots the company to support the strike.
VC's Chairman Martin Locher said, "Improvements are inconceivable without an increase in personnel cockpit costs. During negotiations, Ryanair categorically ruled out any such increases."
"At the same time, Ryanair has not shown any interest to find solutions. It is only Ryanair, which is responsible for the escalation which has now taken place," Locher said.
In Ireland, Irish Airlines Pilots' Association, which represents 25 percent of all Irish pilots, joined the strike.
The airline announced that it canceled 250 flights in Germany, 104 in Belgium, 42 in Ireland and the Netherlands.
– Pilots have 'excellent' working conditions
Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair's chief marketing officer, said Wednesday that the company regretted the "unnecessary" decision to strike.
He claimed that the pilots working for Ryanair have "excellent working conditions" and paid higher salaries than in most of the other companies.
"Ryanair pilots earn at least 30 percent more than Eurowings and 20 percent more than Norwegian pilots," he said.
He also said the union did not inform Ryanair about the strike in advance despite an earlier request was made to VC.
"We asked VC to provide us with at least 7 days’ notice of any planned strike action so that we could notify our customers of cancelled flights in advance and offer them alternative flights or refunds, but they have refused to do this and instead call an unnecessary strike in Germany in just two days’ time," he said.
– 20,000 flights are canceled
The airline was already in trouble even before the pilots' strike as its cabin crew had walked out of job end of July in Italy, Portugal, Spain and in Belgium, causing some 600 flight cancellations in these countries with over 100,000 affected passengers.
In December, VC called all pilots directly employed by Ryanair for a 4-hour strike.
VC said its negotiations for Ryanair pilots in Germany broke down without any result. The pilot union said the strike would affect all Ryanair flights planned for German airports.
The company has canceled 2,000 flights in September 2017, costing the company some €25 million (nearly $30 million).
The Ireland-based airline also announced 18,000 more cancellations in October 2017, and these cancellations affected travel plans of around 400,000 passengers.
Ryanair blamed the cancellations on pilot holiday rosters but the British news media claimed pilot shortage caused the cancellations.
Ryanair carried 120 million passengers last year, up 13 percent on a yearly basis, and its profit after tax reached €1.3 billion (nearly $1.47 billion).
The low-cost airline flights to 86 destinations in 37 countries in Europe.