Air France fury over month-long pilots’ strike

France’s biggest pilots' union issued a call this week for members to join a month-long strike throughout May because they are unhappy about the rules surrrounding their right to strike. With delays and cancellations expected Air France says the walk-out will threaten its recovery.

Air France fury over month-long pilots' strike
Air France chiefs say a threatened month-long pilot strike would harm the airline's recovery. Photo: AFP

If you are planning to fly out of an airport in France during the month of May, your best-laid plans might yet be disrupted. All airlines will be affected by the strike, but most of all France's national carrier Air France.

The country’s leading pilots union (SNPL France Alpa) has reiterated calls made earlier in the year for its members to hold a strike between May 3rd and May 30th on several hours each day.

And the reason for their desire to go on strike? The rules surrounding their right to strike.

Unions want a law repealed that forces pilots to inform their companies that they intend to go on strike 48 hours before the walk-out, which is intended to allow airlines to get information to those affected passengers in advance.

But for unions that law undermines the impact of their industrial action because it allows airlines to draft in pilots from other countries.

This effectively means that although many pilots will strike, the impact on flights can be minimal, as they can simply be replaced. A recent EasyJet strike did not result in any flight delays or cancellations despite the fact that 85 percent of pilots walked-out, according to the union.

On Tuesday angry Air France chiefs said the strike could threaten the recovery of the airline, as estimates emerged suggesting Air Fance may have to cancel around half of its long haul flights.

Air France CEO Frédéric Gagey sent an open letter to the president of the union in an attempt to make him change his mind.

The strike "comes at a crucial time in Air France's recovery", said Gagey, who added that the company is expecting to make a profit this year after six consecutive years of losses.

"It's incomprehensible that this action, which has nothing to do with Air France, should stop this momentum," Gagey added.

The industrial action would consist of work stoppages at set times throughout each day when pilots would lay down their controls, to prevent companies from flying in foreign replacements.

In a statement, Air France said the fixed timings chosen by the union to stop work each day (0345 GMT to 0545 GMT and 1045 GMT to 1345 GMT) "are particularly penalising for Air France and its customers".

It said the early morning work stoppage would disrupt medium-haul flights and the afternoon strike would affect long-haul departures.

Connections at the Charles de Gaulle Paris airport, the heart of the airline's activities, would also be significantly hindered, the airline said.

"To avoid this situation and out of respect for its customers, Air France will be forced to cancel the majority of flights operated by striking pilots. Only a very limited number of flights will be rescheduled," it said.

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SNPL’s president Yves Deshayes said: “We are willing to guarantee every flight, but there will be long delays.”

Deshayes is also demanding a working group be set up to look into ways to lower the tax rates faced by airlines, that he says favours foreign firms.

“Our companies are dying for the benefit of foreign ones and it is our jobs that are going,” says Yves Deshayes. “With all the taxes that exist in France, we run the race with a ball and chain.”

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