Julian Moxon/PARIS

French pilots' unions are using football's World Cup contest to threaten a series of strikes against Air France, the official carrier for the event.

Recent meetings with president Jean-Cyril Spinetta have failed to resolve the management demand for salary cuts of up to 15% in exchange for a 10% stake in the airline. The unions insist that they will strike from 1 June, only nine days before the World Cup begins. Spinetta replies that "-nothing will be given away" in the battle to win concessions from the pilots as part of the carrier's ongoing cost cutting measures.

The threat came as Air France revealed a net profit of almost Fr1.9 billion ($320 million), its first in seven years. A year ago the group had lost Fr268 million after heavy losses recorded by the former Air Inter subsidiary, now fully merged into Air France.

Spinetta has been trying to carry through the cost cutting measures introduced by his predecessor, Christian Blanc, who resigned in mid-1997 over the French Government's refusal to privatise the airline.

In the face of the unions' refusal to consider the salary cuts-for-shares offer, he recently gave the pilots an alternative - a straight Fr500 million reduction over three years, linked to a new career structure which would see an overall reduction in the salary bill. The unions gave this a frosty welcome when it was first presented earlier in the month. They are also demanding the end of the double salary structure in which new employees are paid less than longstanding pilots.

He emerged from a board meeting on 27 May, saying that a decision to buy a further three Boeing 777-200ERs is being postponed until 30 June, pending "guarantees of sufficiently competitive" pilot pay and employment conditions.

Air France, however, has placed a firm order for 16 Airbus A319s and four A321s, plus options on another 20 aircraft. Deliveries will begin immediately to replace the 19 ageing Boeing 737-200s and will continue to early 2002.

Source: Flight International