Air France pilots extend strike until Sept. 26

Sat Sep 20, 2014 8:56am EDT
 
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By James Regan and Gregory Blachier

PARIS (Reuters) - Air France pilots have voted to extend their week-long strike over cost cuts and plans for the company's Transavia unit by a further four days until Sept. 26, the head of the SNPL union said on Saturday.

More than four-fifths of the 74 percent of pilots who took part in the ballot agreed to pursue the industrial action beyond the current deadline of Monday, said Jean-Louis Barber, head of the Air France section of the SNPL.

"It could continue even further (beyond Sept. 26), given the very strong mandate," Barber added, calling for a meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to help resolve the conflict with management.

Air France said on Friday it expected to operate 45 percent of its flights on Saturday, based on an estimated 60 percent of the pilots walking out.

The situation is expected to worsen on Sunday, with just 38 percent of flights going ahead - the lowest level since the strike began on Monday - and 65 percent of pilots walking out, the airline said on Saturday.

The pilots are protesting over Air France's plans to expand the low-cost operations of its Transavia brand by setting up foreign bases as it seeks to fight back against fierce competition from budget carriers.

The expansion of Transavia is part of a new strategic plan unveiled this month aimed at boosting earnings. The proposals would see Transavia's fleet rise to 100 jets by 2017, from about 50 now, and the number of passengers more than double to 20 million.

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Passengers wait at check-in counters during Air France one-week strike at Marseille airport September 19, 2014. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier