Air France to cut flights by 50% on Monday as pilots begin one-week strike

PARIS (Reuters) - Air France will reduce flights by about 50 per cent from Monday as pilots begin a one-week strike over company plans to cut costs to recapture market share from budget airlines, its chief executive said on Saturday.

Speaking to France Inter radio, Mr Francois Gagey repeated that the strike, which could run until Sept 22, would cost the airline between 10 million euros to 15 million euros (S$16.3 million to S$24.5 million) a day.

Europe's second-largest traditional carrier by revenue said in early September it would move ahead with a plan to open new bases in Europe under the Transavia brand to recapture market share from low-cost carriers and Middle East rivals. "On the basis of what we have now, I think we shall only be able to operate roughly 50 percent of flights," Mr Gagey said. "The passengers will be informed and we ask them, if possible, to change their tickets to avoid this period which is a little uncertain," he said.

Air France, which has issued a profit warning in recent months, is hampered by powerful unions in their efforts to lower costs. The main pilots' unions have called for strikes from Sept 15 to Sept 22.

The airline has said it is open to negotiation on benefits tied to seniority and incentives for Air France pilots who transfer to Transavia, but will not yield to trade unions demanding that the labour contracts of Transavia pilots carry the same terms as those flying under the Air France brand.

"It will be 10 to 15 million euros in losses each day," Mr Gagey said.

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