Staff and money shortages: KLM’s CEO Marjan Rintel is facing a turbulent time

We start with the most pressing problem: staff shortages. The whole economy will of course suffer from this, but aviation will have just that little bit extra. Many baggage handlers and security guards were cut down as aviation stalled during the corona pandemic.

These often temps have meanwhile gotten jobs elsewhere, also because it is very poorly paid to lug suitcases at airports. And those who have traveled do not just return, despite the marked pay rise that Schiphol is giving its employees.

And then fewer passengers than planned can go on holiday via Schiphol. At the urgent request of the slot coordinator – who decides which airline is allowed to fly at what time – KLM will cancel 7,000 seats a day in July.

Love cooled off with Schiphol

The long queues and canceled flights cause many grumbling passengers. And it has ensured that the love between the airport and its main customer has cooled considerably.

The first collision took place already last year, when Schiphol decided to increase the take-off and landing fees significantly. A protest by airlines led by KLM was to no avail: regulator ACM delivered in April that the airport can implement the tariff increase of 37 per cent.

That things are not going well between the two companies, who also cannot live without each other, became clear once again this week. The pilots’ union VNV, to which many KLM pilots are affiliated, offered to help with security checks

Thank you, replied the airport, but it will not be easy, because it takes a special training to get started as a security guard. As for the airport, they can get to work unloading and unloading suitcases.

The legacy of her predecessor

Pieter Elbers was waved goodbye to KLM yesterday, where he received a royal decoration. He also had a farewell gift pending: repayment of loans from the state aid package.

The company was in such good shape in June that it can repay all emergency aid from the government. The emergency aid gave KLM cash to keep things going, even though less money came in from ticket sales.

But to prevent the company from borrowing more than it needed, it was agreed that if that happened, the company would have to pay off. And that was the case in June, writes Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag

First and foremost, it is about 354 million from a loan from a group of banks, where the state would cough up 90 percent of the loan if KLM could not manage it itself. In addition, KLM is also repaying the 277 million euros it borrowed from the state itself.

War and flare-up pandemic

However, the company does not yet dare to say goodbye to state aid. KLM keeps the opportunity open to borrow from the help package. Although aviation is recovering, ‘the near future remains unpredictable’.

The biggest threats who sees the company are high inflation and rising costs (for fuel, for example), the corona pandemic that just will not pass, and the war in Ukraine.

Dissatisfied state agent

And because the company remains dependent on the state, it has not yet been freed from the critical view of the so-called state agent Jeroen Kremer. He checks whether KLM complies with the conditions for state aid.

And he’s not very happy about that at all. For example, after two years, KLM has still not put an end to its employees’ tax evasion, writes the state agent† Many KLM pilots live abroad, often because they have to pay less tax there. The company helps with this by flying them for free at work.

KLM also has no long-term plan to reduce costs by at least 15 percent. For this, the staff must also hand in. It also happened last year, but for this year, according to the state agent, the company still needs to take steps to achieve this.

grumbling staff

And it does not go without a fight. On the contrary, because of the pay rise that the company has already promised its pilots. This new agreement – which still needs to be signed – does not fulfill the promise to hand over wages in exchange for state aid.

This is only possible if the agreement for pilots is withdrawn or if other employees who still have to negotiate an agreement are ready to surrender. Fortunately, Rintel knows her way around the company: she had worked there for about 15 years, including as a marketing director.

Political opposition

If Rintel has solved all the above problems, perhaps her biggest challenge awaits: to reverse the development of Dutch politics.

For years, Dutch aviation was not hindered by any obstacles, but that is about to change. The years seem to have passed as aviation was allowed to grow and grow to the great annoyance of local residents and nature organizations.

From the end of next year, a ceiling of a maximum of 440,000 flights per year from the airport will apply, said Minister Mark Harbers (Infrastructure and Water Management, VVD). announced last week

Fortunately, the 54-year-old Rintel is used to something, after her years of service in another company that every Dutchman has an opinion on: the Dutch railways. Coincidence or not: This company also survived only the corona pandemic thanks to billions of euros in state aid.

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