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Air France Seals Ground-Staff Cuts as Pilot Talks Continue

Air France-KLM Group, Europe’s biggest airline, reached agreement with unions today over a reduction in ground-staff, the three labor organizations involved in the talks said.

Plans to pare headcount by 10 percent were approved by the FO, CFE-CGC and CFDT unions, which represent 45 percent of ground workers, enough to sanction the measures under French law, CFDT union official Michel Salomon said by text message.

“This was the easiest agreement to get,” said Yan Derocles, an analyst at Oddo Securities with a “buy” recommendation on Air France-KLM stock. “The big question mark now is on the cabin crew. The main pilot union’s position also remains vague.”

Air France plans to eliminate 5,122 jobs from its French arm by the end of 2013 as it seeks a return to profitability. Some 3,410 posts will go via voluntary departures, with the balance to be eliminated by not replacing personnel who retire. Air France spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand said the company won’t comment before the formal signing of accords tomorrow.

FO official Philippe Chassonnery and Ronald Noirot of the CFE-CGC confirmed by phone that the cuts had been accepted. The SNPL pilot union and three main cabin-crew groups are continuing talks, according to spokesmen Louis Jobard and Franck Mikula.

The SNPL, which represents more than two-thirds of flight crew, held meetings with 44 pilot representatives today to decide on the issue, though must poll its members before formally signing any accord, Jobard said.

The three cabin crew unions in discussion with Air France’s management -- the UNAC-CGC, SNPNC-FO and UNSA -- haven’t decided whether to vote in favor of the cuts, UNAC president Mikula said. Talks continue tomorrow and may extend to Monday, he said.

Ground-staff numbers will be hardest hit by the measures, with the company seeking 2,000 voluntary departures.

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