Are KLM and Air France on the Road to Separation?

KLM’s CEO, Camiel Eurlings is coming under strong verbal pressure from his pilots, cabin crews and ground staff to come up with what they think is an acceptable Collective Labor Agreement.
In light of the recent strike at Air France which allegedly cost the French national carrier more than €300 million, the KLM top manager is seen to be facing the same fate within the Netherlands.

KLM boss Camiel Eurlings must maintain the carrier’s “blue identity,” many staff say  /  source: KLM
KLM boss Camiel Eurlings must maintain the carrier’s “blue identity,” many staff say / source: KLM

A recent report in the Netherlands widely read and respected newspaper, De Telegraaf, has highlighted the present state of affairs within the boardroom of the Dutch carrier.


Not a pretty picture at all!
The report goes on to state that the Dutch pilots union, VNV, has voiced its complete support of the action by their French cockpit colleagues over the past two weeks.
More fuel is thrown into the fire by the announcement that also the French and Dutch unions representing cabin crew and ground staff feel the same way and that new strikes, also in Holland, are just a matter of time.

The rift between the French and Dutch thinking is apparent when reading the statement that the Dutch side which supports the so called five year plan (‘Perform 2020’) put up by the AF/KL management.
In essence, they state that they stand behind it but not at just their (Dutch) cost only. They (the unions) claim the Dutch side has contributed enough and is not willing to suffer further because of continued French losses.
That statement itself does not bode well for future cooperation in the joint Franco-Dutch carrier.

No leadership demonstrated
It’s not just the French carrier’s top men, de Juniac and Cagey who are under pressure, but also KLM’s Eurlings, who many within the company say is almost invisible and does not demonstrate enough leadership and vision to lead the carrier through these very troubled times and ensure that the Dutch carrier maintains its “blue identity” which very many feel has been swallowed up into the Air France corporate identity.


Seemingly, top KLM managers are openly critical of the situation their carrier is in and are fed up with good money which is earned by KLM being thrown into the bottomless pit at Air France. They want their top man to stop playing lip service and stand up and be counted to ensure things change.
Hardliners are openly maintaining that de Juniac, Cagey and Eurlings collectively leave the ring and that other more competent managers take up the reins.

AF-KL are still tied up – at the hull of their aircraft  /  source: AF
AF-KL are still tied up – at the hull of their aircraft / source: AF

Has the message come over?
Mr Eurlings it seems has gone on the defensive by proclaiming that he has a “blue heart” and that it’s better to continue on the negotiating table rather than stepping up onto the barricades.
Apparently, he further stated that the French management has guaranteed that KLM’s hub in Amsterdam will remain in the future.
In the same breath he also tells his staff that major investments are a must and to achieve all of this there must be more emphasis or focus on costs.
Is it then that the costs of the recent strike by Air France pilots are to be borne equally by the Dutch and French carriers?
Camiel Eurlings says, “definitely not” and he’ll make sure this will not happen.

The Dutch unions play an important role for survival.
Many of the staff and particularly the unions are of the opinion, “enough is enough” and that management has to come up with strong and in their eyes, believable arguments to avoid further internal discord and crippling strikes.
They are demanding clear directions, the guarantee that decisions on KLM’s going forward are made in Amsterdam and not Paris as well as the need to stop the erosion of KLM’s identity altogether.

Splitting up seems to become an option
We have reported in earlier issues on the misery of the AF/KL cargo product which shows continued losses and alleged unfair transfer of cost internally by the French management.
If all of the above were to be taken at face value, then both carriers have a more than serious problem and it would be only fair that for Dutch unions and staff to have serious misgivings as to who will or can decide and guide the future of the “Blue Flag.”

Many of the world’s financial analysts are adamant about the fact that the Franco-Dutch carrier is by far out of danger and that possibly the worst is still to come.

If the present management team in Amsterdam and Paris can’t get this act together, then maybe it would be best to bite the bullet and called it a day.
Air France operating on its own and KLM also.

John Mc Donagh

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