Sickness Walkout by Air Berlin Pilots May 'Threaten Existence' of Airline as Thousands of Passengers Grounded

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by Bradley Gerrard, The Telegraph, September 12, 2017

A wildcat walkout by Air Berlin pilots could “threaten the existence” of the under-fire carrier, its chief executive has said.

Thomas Winkelmann claimed the move by nearly 200 pilots to call in sick at short notice was “the equivalent to playing with fire” and would cost the troubled airline “several million euros”.

The company had to cancel more than 110 flights out of a planned 750 on Tuesday because of the walkout. This disrupted some 12,000 passengers, the company said.

This has the potential to unsettle any potential rescuers for Air Berlin, which filed for administration last month when it was given a €150m (£135m) loan by the German government. The deadline for bids is this Friday with a decision expected to be made within a week.

“We are currently conducting final talks with potential investors. It is essential that operations be stable in order for these negotiations to go well. That is the only way to secure as many jobs as possible,” Mr Winkelmann said.

Air Berlin strike

Frank Kebekus, the company’s chief representative, said the events “seriously endanger the entire insolvency proceedings under self-administration” and that if the situation did not change quickly, “we will have to cease operations and thus any restructuring efforts”.

The move has also hit Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings, which said it had been told by Air Berlin at short notice some of the flights the latter carrier runs for it could not be staffed.

"Nevertheless, Eurowings is able to operate the majority of its flight programme of 650 daily Eurowings flights as scheduled," a spokesperson said.

"Besides, long-haul flights are not affected as Air Berlin is not operating any Airbus A330 on behalf of Eurowings."

Shares in the company dropped roughly 3.5pc on the back of the announcement to 33 cents. Air Berlin has been dogged by delays and cancellations, which have resulted in it paying millions of euros in compensation to passengers. This in turn has hit passenger numbers, which fell by 24pc year-on-year in July from 3.22m to 2.44m.

The company has been under intense pressure following the move by its largest shareholder Etihad, which has a 29.2pc stake, to refuse to plough more cash into the ailing business. The Gulf-based company said last month the decline of Air Berlin was “extremely disappointing”, especially as it had provided extensive support to the German carrier over the past six years, notably with a €250m (£227m) cash injection in April this year.

Christine Behle, the federal president of the United Service Union, Verdi, claimed talks about a sale of Air Berlin had not focused on the 8,000 employees  and that workers were "increasingly perceived as part of a game of purely economic and political interests".

She added she found the walkout by pilots "by no means surprising".

Alitalia, the other European airline to file for administration this year, was also majority owned by Etihad.

It is understood about six companies are in the race to bid for assets belonging to Air Berlin by the deadline this week, including Thomas Cook's Condor and low-cost players such as easyJet.

Former Formula One driver Niki Lauda is also interested in buying back Niki, the Austrian airline he founded, which merged with Air Berlin six years ago.

Meanwhile, easyJet is keen to take on some of the routes flown by Air Berlin by buying the slots the German carrier owns at airports rather than planes.

Passengers with tickets on cancelled flights will be offered other travel options but should check the status of their flights before travelling. Those travelling on Air Berlin as part of a package deal are encouraged to contact their travel agent.

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This article was written by Bradley Gerrard from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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