Coronavirus: Medavia grounds fleet, fires pilots and cabin crew

Mediterranean Aviation Co. Ltd., which has been flying from Malta for over 40 years, has grounded its four-plane fleet and fired all pilots, cabin crew and engineers, as well heads of flight and ground operations

Medavia’s Dash 8-100
Medavia’s Dash 8-100

Pilots, cabin crew and engineers have been laid off by Medavia (Mediterranean Aviation Co. Ltd.), which is blaming the restrictions on air travel introduced by the government as response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite having lucrative contracts in place – and still operating – with the United Nation’s World Food Programme.

Even more worryingly, a four-men crew stationed in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, with one of the company’s Dash-8 aircraft, has now been left stranded there, with no WFP operational license and no way to get out of the country, which has closed its borders in response to coronavirus.

Sources within Medavia confirmed that all crews working on the company’s two Beechcraft 1900D and two Dash 8 aircraft were made redundant yesterday, as were the head of flight operations and the head of ground operations. In all, 26 staff were fired.

The crews were first informed on 2 April that the company was considering downsizing and, after the company’s CEO and HR manager failed to turn up for a video conference scheduled for 6 April, the crews had written to the administration, asking for a meeting to discuss options.

The sources said that the administration did not reply to the crews’ request until yesterday morning, when all 26 personnel received their redundancy letter. In some cases, the personnel’s last day of work will be today, they were told.

The sources insisted that the company’s decision to ground its fleet and fire the crews did not make sense since Medavia was currently under contract by the UN WFP to assist in delivering humanitarian aid and medical staff and equipment in Tunisia and South Sudan.

One of Medavia’s 19-seater Beechcraft 1900D
One of Medavia’s 19-seater Beechcraft 1900D

The WFP contract had been running in its fourth year, and Medavia used the Beechcraft 1900D and Dash 8 aircraft on those missions.

Sources told MaltaToday that Medavia only informed the UN Rome office to unilaterally pull out of its contractual obligations with the WFP and that the regional office in Juba and Tunis were not informed of the decision.

‘No other option’

When contacted, Ivan Refalo, Medavia’s head of HR and corporate communications, confirmed that the crews had been made redundant after the board decided to shut down all flight operations.

“Under the circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with all air travel suspended, the company had no other option but to ground the fleet, as it strives to bolster business in other departments in a bid to keep the company afloat,” he said. “The company is trying to save as many jobs as possible.”

Refalo acknowledged the existence of the WFP contract but said the board had concluded that those contracts alone were not enough to keep flight operations profitable.

Refalo would not confirm that a Medavia crew was currently stranded in Juba, citing operational and personnel security concerns.

“But I must emphasise that the company still intends to repatriate all crew currently located at outstations and that we consider it our responsibility to bring these crew members back to Malta,” he said.

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