Pi­lots ground Air Ber­lin flights as bid dead­line nears

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FOREIGN -

In­sol­vent Air Ber­lin can­celled about 100 flights yes­ter­day af­ter pi­lots called in sick in un­usu­ally high num­bers, po­ten­tially ham­per­ing an at­tempt to find in­vestors to res­cue Ger­many’s se­cond-largest air­line.

Air Ber­lin filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion last month af­ter its big­gest share­holder, Eti­had Air­ways, with­drew fund­ing fol­low­ing years of losses. Po­ten­tial in­vestors have un­til Septem­ber 15 to sub­mit bind­ing of­fers for the Ger­man air­line.

“We must re­turn to sta­ble op­er­a­tions. That is cru­cial in or­der to bring talks with in­vestors to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion,” Chief Op­er­a­tions Of­fi­cer Oliver If­fert said in an in­ter­nal memo. “To­day is a day that threat­ens the ex­is­tence of Air Ber­lin.”

About 100 flights had been can­celled by late yes­ter­day morn­ing af­ter 200 Air Ber­lin pi­lots called in sick. Some short-haul flights at Lufthansa’s bud­get air­line Eurow­ings were also hit be­cause it leases 33 planes with crews from Air Ber­lin.

An in­dus­try source said Air Ber­lin could lose 4 mil­lion to 5 mil­lion eu­ros a day be­cause of the can­cel­la­tions.

Pi­lots union Vere­ini­gung Cock­pit (VC) said it was sur­prised by the ab­sences and that it had not called on its mem­bers at Air Ber­lin to call in sick.

In a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent last year, Ger­man leisure air­line Tuifly was forced to can­cel flights af­ter cock­pit and cabin crew called in sick. The union Verdi, which rep­re­sents cabin staff, said then its mem­bers were con­cerned that merger talks, which have since failed, could lead to job and pay cuts.

While a Ger­man govern­ment loan is help­ing keep Air Ber­lin alive, the car­rier has also been forced to scrap some long-haul des­ti­na­tions from Sept. 25. If­fert said in the memo seen by Reuters that this was be­cause a leas­ing com­pany will no longer pro­vide Air Ber­lin with 10 long-haul planes.

Ger­many’s big­gest air­line, Lufthansa, is seen in pole po­si­tion to ac­quire large parts of its ri­val and a de­ci­sion on the bids come could as early as Sept. 21, three days be­fore a na­tional elec­tion.

One source has told Reuters that Lufthansa is in­ter­ested in as many as 90 of Air Ber­lin’s planes. That num­ber in­cludes the 33 be­ing used by Eurow­ings, five al­ready leased to Lufthansa’s Aus­trian Air­lines as well as planes used by Air Ber­lin sub­sidiary Niki, the source said.

Thomas Cook’s Ger­man car­rier Con­dor is pre­par­ing a bid for parts of Air Ber­lin, another source said, while me­dia re­ports say easyjet may want up to 40 planes.

Avi­a­tion in­vestor Hans Ru­dolf Woehrl said he had sub­mit­ted a bid for the whole of Air Ber­lin while Ger­man fam­ily-owned lo­gis­tics com­pany Zeit­fracht has also ex­pressed an in­ter­est.

Ryanair said yes­ter­day that Air Ber­lin could be of in­ter­est to the Ir­ish low-cost car­rier but it didn’t want to wait un­til af­ter Lufthansa had fin­ished talks.

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