From July 12, SAS pilots will fly planes between Oslo and Longyearbyen via Tromsø to pick up travelers stranded due to the ongoing pilots’ strike.
Tens of thousands of passengers across Scandinavia have been affected every day since the strike began last week, but few have had more difficulties than those stranded on Svalbard.
Now the pilot's group has confirmed its members will fly planes to and from Longyearbyen for the next week. The first departure SK4425 left Oslo and Tromsø for Svalbard this morning, returning as SK4425 this afternoon.
However, the bad news continues for other SAS travellers, with no end to the strike yet in sight.
A remote Arctic destination
Svalbard is an Arctic archipelago administered by Norway. Home to around 2,000 people, the town of Longyearbyen relies on its airport for tourism, but also for the transport of key workers, cargo and essential supplies.
Aside from the canceled SAS services, only Norwegian runs regular scheduled flights to Svalbard. Deep into high season for the Arctic destination, those Norwegian flights along with much of the accommodation on the archipelago was already fully-booked.
The cancellation of the daily SAS flights to Tromsø and Oslo left many hundreds of tourists stranded without accommodation or any means of getting home.
Resumption of service delights all
SAS and the striking pilots have agreed on exemptions from the strike to bring home stranded charter tourists who have few or no other transport options. An exemption for travellers in Svalbard has also now been approved.
Originally planned as a single flight, the SAS pilots’ group—which represents four SAS pilots’ unions in Denmark, Norway and Sweden—announced the approval following close dialog with the Governor of Svalbard.
“The dispensation helps to ensure Svalbard access to critical personnel and equipment,” said the statement, with the group adding they want to provide “predictability and security” for the population of Svalbard.
SAS Norway press manager Tonje Sund said that she is happy that the application was approved: “We are pleased that the unions have now approved our application for dispensation.”
Health service threatened by ongoing strike
The ongoing strike is causing problems far beyond Svalbard. In the north of Norway, administrators fear disruption to the health service. Specialist health services have been under pressure for years in the north, where a small population is spread over a large, remote area.
As the situation is now with the strike, Troms and Finnmark state administrator Elisabeth Vik Aspaker said they do not have realistic alternative transport options for patients and critical health personnel.
SAS pilots' strike continues
About 900 SAS pilots in Norway, Sweden and Denmark are involved in the strike, with SAS cancelling approximately half of all its departures.
Many aviation industry insiders predicted the industrial action will run for a long time. So far that's proving to be true. One week after the strike began, there's been little communication between the parties.