Air France Pilots Plan to Step Up Pressure With More Walkouts

  • Union says no hint of talks since contact ceased last week
  • Walkouts threaten to depress bookings during peak season

Air France’s main pilot union said it’s planning more walkouts in a dispute over pay and productivity once a four-day strike ends Tuesday, threatening to increase disruption as the summer travel season nears its peak.

The carrier’s management has made no attempt to negotiate since talks about its plans to extend working hours for the same salary ceased early last week, according to the SNPL labor group. The current walkout, which began on Saturday, has forced Air France to cancel about 20 percent of its daily flights.

“It’s been absolute silence since Wednesday,” SNPL official Emmanuel Mistrali said. “We can’t go on like this, not being heard. There will be follow-up.”

Air France said in a statement that “the door is still open for negotiation” but that executives have had to focus on operational challenges during the strike. It added that the SNPL has refused all offers of compromise.

While the financial impact of this week’s strike has been about 30 million euros ($50 million), versus 500 million euros from a longer walkout in 2014, the action could severely depress forward bookings as people worry about future walkouts, Oddo Securities analyst Yan Derocles said.

“There will certainly be another pilot strike,” Derocles said from Paris. “Having this come in the busy summer season is troublesome.” In addition to the usual flood of visiting tourists and outbound travel, France is hosting the Euro 2016 soccer tournament for the next month.

Tuesday Timetable

Air France said that “there is no painless strike” and that the industrial action is also hurting France’s imagine when the country is in the spotlight.

Air France-KLM Group’s French arm expects to operate about 85 percent of scheduled long-haul flights from its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub Tuesday, together with 80 percent of domestic services and 75 percent of remaining short-haul flights, it said in an operational update Monday.

Only about 25 percent of Air France pilots have joined the action, limiting its impact, though the SNPL said walkouts have been restricted to about three hours and that longer strikes would prove far more debilitating for the airline.

Air France cabin crew also plan to strike from July 27 through August 2 in protest at initial proposals put forward to replace a labor deal expiring in October. That leaves ground handlers as the only major employee sector not currently in conflict with the company.

CEO Exit

Negotiations are complicated by the fact Air France-KLM Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac is due to leave in July to head the International Air Transport Association. Successor Jean-Marc Janaillac, currently CEO of bus operator Transdev, won’t be in place until then and will need several weeks to become more acquainted with the company, Derocles said.

De Juniac separately sought to reassure KLM workers over the unit’s future, with Dutch newspaper Financieele Dagblad reporting that he had denied the existence of plans to switch more flights to the Charles de Gaulle hub from Amsterdam Schiphol.

The 2014 strike over De Juniac’s plans to transfer flights to Air France’s Transavia discount operation, bypassing union opposition at its main operations, ended after the government forced the airline to back down and limit the unit’s scope.

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