Air France says most jets will fly despite strike

Air France’s main pilot union said it is planning more walkouts in a dispute over pay and productivity once a four-day strike ends on 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 labour group. The current walkout, which began on Saturday, has forced Air France to cancel about 20 per cent of its daily flights.

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

Air France said “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 (Dh124.5m), versus €500m from a longer walkout in 2014, the action could severely depress forward bookings as people worry about future walkouts, said the Oddo Securities analyst Yan Derocles.

“There will certainly be another pilot strike,” Mr Derocles said. “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 football tournament for the next month.

Air France said that “there is no painless strike” and that the industrial action is also hurting France’s image when the country is in the spotlight with the Euro football championships taking place in the country.

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

Only about 25 per cent of Air France pilots have joined the action, limiting its impact, although 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.

Negotiations are complicated by the fact Air France-KLM chief executive Alexandre de Juniac is due to leave in July to head the International Air Transport Association. His successor Jean-Marc Janaillac, currently the chief executive of the bus operator Transdev, will not be in place until then and will need several weeks to become more acquainted with the company, Mr Derocles said.

Mr 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 Mr 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.

The Air France chief executive Frederic Gagey said the four-day walkout over pay curbs would cost the airline about €5m each day.

“Of course, we’ll look after the Euro tournament,” Mr Gagey said.

SNPL represents more than half of the airline’s pilots, and SPAF represents about a quarter.

Last week Mr Gagey suggested a tough stance on the strike even if it meant disruption to the Euro tournament, saying that football fans stranded by the strike could “drive or take the train,” or else fly on Dutch sister airline KLM or its US partner Delta.

The pilots strike comes amid weeks of nationwide protests against plans to loosen France’s strict labour laws, which have blocked refineries, disrupted rail travel and left garbage piling up on the streets of Paris.

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