September 17, 2014 / 7:49 AM / in 4 years

French government calls for end to Air France strike

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government called for an end to the Air France pilots strike, now in its third day, as the dispute over cost cuts threatened 60 percent of the airline’s flights on Wednesday.

Chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM Alexandre de Juniac is seen during a news conference at the Air France headquarters at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris on the third day of an Air France one-week strike September 17, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

“This strike is weighing heavily on Air France, as well as on its finances, and on the attractiveness and the image of our country,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said during an interview with France Inter radio.

“No one understands what this strike is about,” he added.

Budget Minister Emmanuel Macron similarly called for a swift resolution, telling Europe 1 radio that “we cannot accept that a country gets blocked because of just a few”.

The comments by Valls and Macron came a day after the government won a confidence vote in parliament by a thin margin, with Valls telling deputies that France needed pro-business reforms but without compromising the country’s social model.

The pilots are carrying out a week-long strike over the airline’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.

Air France is trying to boost its earnings by expanding Transavia but says that in doing so it is not trying to replace Air France.

The SNPL national pilots’ union has said its members are worried the company will abandon Transavia’s development in France and focus on its expansion elsewhere in Europe, moving jobs outside the country.

The head of Air France has estimated that the strike will cost the company 10 million to 15 million euros ($13-$19.4 million) per day.

Shares in parent company Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) were up 1.6 percent in early trade on Wednesday after falling 6.5 percent over the last two days.

Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by James Regan

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