Fresh travel disruptions as Air France pilots extend strike to 2nd day

Planes parked on the tarmac of Roissy Charles de Gaulle's airport, during the first day of the French company Air France pilots' strike on Sept 15, 2012. -- PHOTO: AFP
Planes parked on the tarmac of Roissy Charles de Gaulle's airport, during the first day of the French company Air France pilots' strike on Sept 15, 2012. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Passengers faced a second day of travel disruption on Tuesday as Air France pilots extended a strike in protest at the airline's plans to expand its low-cost subsidiary. Air France was forced to scrap 60 per cent of its flights as unions estimated three-quarters of pilots followed their call to strike.

However, the situation at France's main airports was mainly calm as passengers were warned in advance they would be unable to travel.

Terminal 2E at the main Paris airport, Charles De Gaulle, was deserted, with only a few bewildered and stranded passengers who had not received a message in time. "I was supposed to leave at 9.35am. They finally found me a flight in the afternoon," said Delhi-bound Indian tourist Sakhit Dhamija.

The head of the Air France-KLM group, Alexandre de Juniac, told French radio the situation would "improve slightly" on Wednesday, with more than 40 per cent of flights in the air.

The company held talks into the night on Monday with unions that have threatened to strike until Sept 22 - which would be the longest industrial action at the company since 1998.

There is "not yet" a breakthrough in the crisis but "we are continuing to negotiate," said Air France boss Frederic Gagey.

"We have made proposals. We have recognised the concerns of pilots who thought Transavia France could replace Air France in France," he added.

Transavia France, the company's low-cost subsidiary, will be limited to a fleet of 30 planes instead of the 37 originally planned, management announced.

Unions fear that expanding Transavia will lead to "jobs being outsourced" and "social dumping" with pilots being employed on local contracts.

The plan "is of course not to replace Air France with Transavia", stressed Mr Gagey.

The company plans to "add to the tools at Air France's disposal to attack a new market - the leisure market - by developing Transavia", he explained.

Fresh negotiations between unions and the management will take place later on Tuesday afternoon.

In neighbouring Germany, a strike by flag carrier Lufthansa was narrowly averted as German pilot union Cockpit called off industrial action planned for Tuesday after winning concessions from management.