Air France Says Facing EUR100 mln Strike Bill

November 13, 2008

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A four-day pilot strike at Air France due to start on Friday will cost the French airline EUR100 million euros (USD$125 million), its chairman warned on Thursday.

Calling the protest over the retirement age "useless and dangerous", Jean-Cyril Spinetta said in an open letter to unions the strike could worsen the impact of an industry-wide crisis.

Air France is the French flag carrier network operated by Franco-Dutch airline group Air France-KLM.

Transport officials have warned of severe disruption at French airports over the weekend due to the strike, called by some unions over plans to increase the retirement age to 65.

Spinetta said the extension would be optional and pilots would still be able to retire at 60 if they wished.

He said European safety authority EASA would in any case soon increase the maximum pilot retirement age to 65 and that France would have to fall in line with this measure.

The strike comes as Air France-KLM reaches the closing stages of a contest with German rival Lufthansa to clinch a partnership with Alitalia, one of Europe's most strike-prone airlines, which is emerging from bankruptcy.

Spinetta denied a report in Italian newspaper MF that Air France was poised to win the deal, allowing it a minority stake in an Italian consortium that plans to take over profitable parts of Alitalia and merge them with rival Air One.

No decision had yet been taken on a partner, he said.

"It is up to the Italian industrialists to say which of the large European airlines they have chosen to be their partner when the time comes," he said.

Protests by Alitalia employees over the takeover stretched into a fourth day on Thursday, cancelling more than 20 flights and prompting authorities to order workers to end disruptions.

(Reuters)