Air France Says 80% of Flights Maintained Amid Pilot Strikeby
French carrier says 27% of pilots strike, union counts 70%
Strike hits at peak travel time for Euro soccer tournament
Air France, hobbled by a strike involving more than a quarter of its pilots, said about 80 percent of its flights would operate on Saturday and Sunday.
Air France-KLM Group’s French arm will maintain more than 80 percent of scheduled long-haul flights and about 70 percent of European services on Sunday, it said in a statement, adding that last-minute cancellations and delays were possible. More than 85 percent of domestic flights will operate, it said. The disruption will be similar on Monday and Tuesday, a spokesman said by telephone.
In a labor walkout that coincides with the start of the European soccer championship, which France is hosting, pilots are protesting the carrier’s imposition of more work hours without additional pay and pushing it to order 26 long-haul planes to ensure that the fleet is ready for capacity growth. Pilots only stop working for periods of about three hours three times a day, Emmanuel Mistrali, a spokesman for the largest pilot union, said by telephone.
"Our goal is that our demands are heard, not to stifle the company," he said. The union, called by its acronym SNPL, estimates that 70 percent of employees have partly stopped working.
Ten cities across France are welcoming 2.5 million spectators for the Euro tournament that began Friday. The flights cancellations add to railroaders, energy workers and garbage collectors’ work stoppages due to other disputes, including against the French government’s labor reform.
The conflict may cost the airline tens of millions of euros, Air France-KLM Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said last week. A pilot strike in 2014 cost the company about 500 million euros ($563 million) in lost revenue. Even so, meeting unions’ demands would require an 11 percent jump in the pilot payroll, currently at about 1 billion euros, Gilles Gateau, the carrier’s head of personnel, said Thursday.
Pilots are also protesting the transfer of some flights from Air France to Dutch sister brand KLM. SNPL asks the company to "repatriate flights" to Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris "rather than Amsterdam, so as to give work to pilots, stewards and ground staff" of Air France, SNPL head Philippe Evain told Europe 1 radio on Saturday. "There was no massive transfer of capacity" to KLM, Air France CEO Frederic Gagey replied on the air a few minutes later.
The SNPL says there is no meeting with Air France scheduled before Tuesday. "We haven’t been contacted by the senior management," Mistrali said. "I would rather be sitting around a table to negotiate with them than discussing figures at this moment."
To maintain service, Air France has turned to part-time pilots, for instance managers and trainers who are entitled to fly, and chartered out “a few” flights that couldn’t be rescheduled, according to a spokesman.
The conflict stands in contrast with the agreements reached between KLM and its employees, who agreed on spending-reduction measures without halting work. The current Air France strike prompted Amsterdam-based KLM to take the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing it as “destructive.”