Pilots unpaid since last summer threaten new season firefighting boycott

Forty helicopter pilots contracted by Everjets last year during the peak fire season are threatening a flying boycott this summer due to unpaid wages.

According to Correio da Manhã, Everjets owes the companies that contracted the pilots “around half a million euros”.

Apart from money owing to pilots, Everjets also owes money for the hiring of helicopters, and for fuel, says CM.

But the company – awarded a €46 million concession by the State for national firefighting in 2013 – claims it is waiting for €8 million from the national authority for Civil Protection (ANPC).

According to Lusa sources, Everjets says the ANPC ‘owes’ it for a 40% share-deal over the use of Russian Kamov helicopters which have been notoriously unreliable since their purchase by the former PS government under prime minister José Sócrates in 2008.

With the issue now being taken up by every national paper, CM adds that lawyer Pedro Ferreira – representing frustrated pilots – has stressed that the group is considering a civil action against Everjets, as they still haven’t been paid for five crucial months of flying during 2016’s challenging “Charlie” phase, which runs every year between June and October.

This year’s “Charlie” phase is now fast approaching – to the point that Secretary of State for Internal Administration Jorge Gomes has been at pains to guarantee that firefighting this year is “not at risk”, despite all the internal wranglings.

Gomes told Lusa last Saturday: “Obviously, we are concerned that a service company (Everjets) is not fulfilling its obligations” but this is not putting 2017’s firefighting campaign at risk because “there are many alternatives”.

Gomes did not however go into the alternatives.

Lusa meantime has put the Ministry of Internal Administration’s point of view.

A source has told the news agency that any issues resulting from the contract signed between Everjets and the State will be “settled in court”.

The source stressed however that the ministry was unaware of the size of the debt that Everjets “will be alleging”.

The “Kamov nightmare” has overshadowed recent fire seasons, as of the six originally purchased, only three are these days able to fly.
One is permanently out of service, and two others need repairs, for which this year’s State budget has €10 million ‘set aside’, reports Diário de Notícias – stressing that “the office of the secretary of state has simply said that the time for repairs is around four months, but has not advanced with any date for their commencement”.

Last year’s firefighting season saw Portugal ravaged by blazes from north to south. Firefighting planes were drafted in from Russia and Morocco in August because the country simply could not cope with what was nationally available.

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