Air France pilots back restructuring plans

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Air France's attempts to restructure have received a significant boost after new collective labour agreements proposed to its pilots were accepted by pilots' union SNPL after a referendum.

Hoping to improve its economic efficiency by 20%, the SkyTeam carrier is seeking changes to flight-duty rosters. It wants them to resemble those of the pilots and crews operating flights from its regional bases, who work more hours over fewer days.

The SNPL union represents 2,300 of the airline's pilots, equating to 6% of the company's workforce. With 83% participation in the referendum, 67% approved the agreement.

Air France's chief executive Alexandre de Juniac says: "This result clearly demonstrates the sense of responsibility of the company's pilots and their representatives." He says that, with the agreement also signed by unions representing ground staff, the validation "is a very solid base for Air France to return to growth".

The French flag-carrier has experienced industrial action by a minority pilot union, SPAF, which represents pilots in its subsidiary Regional, but de Juniac says that this disruption has been minimal.

Air France has also offered its pilots incentives equivalent to five or six months' salary to transfer to its low-cost subsidiary Transavia France. The incentives range from €30,000 for a first officer to €60,000 for a captain. At Transavia the pilots will keep the same salaries they earn at Air France, but will be expected to work around 15% more hours.

Overall Air France hopes to reduce its staff numbers by over 5,100, from a total of 49,300, by December 2013. Around 1,700 of those will have departed by the end of next year, leaving some 2,000 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 450 pilots facing redundancy. The reduction in staff numbers is part of an Air France-KLM Group restructuring intiative dubbed Transform 2015.