Eight out of 10 Air France pilots have agreed to wage cuts and a subsequent freeze in salaries in return for a stake in the airline when it is partially privatised.

The decision means that the French Government can go ahead with its partial privatisation plans, under which up to 20% of the national carrier will be offered on the stock market, probably as soon as next month. The deal allows the pilots to take up to Fr1.3 billion ($234 million) - between 6.5% and 7.5% - of the carrier.

Air France says the agreement means it will save an immediate Fr240 million a year through the average 2% cut in salaries, with further savings of Fr160 million a year likely through the three-year freeze. A further Fr50 million in savings will come through the creation of a "pilot cadet" subsidiary to cater for the lower salaries to be paid to new entrants.

Both measures are subject to further negotiations with the main pilots' union, the SNPL, but it is hoped that Fr500 million worth of cuts in workforce costs will be achieved by 2002.

Air France is to codeshare with French Caribbean airlines Air Martinique and Air Guadeloupe to the Caribbean and North American markets.

They will operate as a single airline between Cayenne, Fort-de-France, Caracas,Pointe-à-Pitre, Port-au-Prince and Miami, using an Air France Boeing 737-300 and another 737 operated by the two local airlines.

Source: Flight International