Talks to end a strike by the largest pilots’ union at Colombia’s flagship airline Avianca were suspended after failing to reach agreement on wages and benefits, the two sides said on Wednesday, extending an indefinite walkout that has left travelers grounded.

Avianca says the strike by its pilots is illegal, as in its view air travel qualifies as an essential public service. If the strike is declared illegal, the pilots can be fired.

On Thursday, the Colombian government decided to call on an arbitration tribunal to resolve the labor dispute who are now into their ninth day of the strike.

“The national government has made the decision through the Ministry of Labor to convene an arbitration tribunal unofficially,” Griselda Restrepo said.


The Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (ACDAC), which represents more than 700 of the 1,300 Avianca pilots working in the country, began the strike on Sept. 20 when talks mediated by the Labor Ministry ended without a deal.

Avianca said the ACDAC did not accept the company’s proposal, which included a wage increase of 12.75 percent, and the union said the airline then withdrew the offer without allowing it to consult with affiliates.

“Widespread demands, including a 60 percent increase in wages and a number of benefits that exceed the limits of the company, would cost more than $274 million annually, are inadmissible and puts at high risk the (company‘s) sustainability and competitiveness,” Avianca president Hernan Rincon said in a statement.

Avianca continues to categorize the strike by the pilots union as illegal, as in its view air travel qualifies as an essential public service that cannot be disrupted by a labor dispute under a law passed in the 1990s. If the strike is declared illegal, the pilots can be fired.

Avianca, a member of the Star Alliance and one of the leading airlines in Latin America, carried 29.5 million passengers in 2016. It has more than 21,000 employees and serves 105 destinations in 28 countries in America and Europe.

Although Avianca flights that did not include Colombia have not been affected, initially affected only local flights, earlier this week the airline decided to suspend ticket sales for some routes as a “…” normal practice in the industry to ensure passenger movement with reservation and to avoid inconvenience”.

Those searching for flights online have received error messages such as “We cannot process your request at this time” or “Internal Server Error.”

Further complicating the situation is a global flight check-in system outage that has reportedly affected some 125 airlines across the world and caused confusion at airports from Washington to England to Singapore, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.