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Pilot absences bring 'life-threatening' disruption for Air Berlin

Air Berlin has been forced to cancel more than 110 flights today after pilots called in sick.

The Oneworld member says it normally operates 750 flights a day but had to make cancellations because around 200 of its 1,500 pilots had declared themselves unfit to fly.

"Many" of these declarations were made at short notice, during the pilots' pre-flight crew briefings or as they made their way to the aircraft, adds Air Berlin, noting that the ensuing disruption is "life threatening" for the German carrier.

Lufthansa's low-cost division Eurowings – which is wet-leasing Airbus A320-family jets from Air Berlin – has been affected. "Air Berlin has informed us on short notice that numerous flights operated by Air Berlin... cannot be staffed," says Eurowings.

Air Berlin chief executive Thomas Winkelmann suggests that pilots who have absented themselves are "playing with fire". He states: "We are in the middle of final talks with potential investors. A stable operation is mandatory for these negotiations to succeed."

The flight cancellations represent a "massive threat" to Air Berlin's insolvency proceedings, in the view of the carrier's court-appointed executive director Frank Kebekus. "If the situation does not change quickly, we will have to terminate operations and, thus, any restructuring efforts," he warns.

Pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit says it is "surprised" by the cancellations and stresses that it has not called on its members to call in sick.

"VC is convinced that talks about a social plan for an orderly staff transfer is the only way to safeguard as many jobs as possible," says the union, adding that it has urged its members at Air Berlin to honour obligations in their labour contracts unless there is an "acute reason" to call in sick.

German service-sector union Verdi argues that it is "not at all surprising" that pilots have called in sick, given Air Berlin's current situation. Verdi is likewise urging staff members to go to work "in order not to jeopardise jobs", but notes: "It cannot be ruled out that this will occur with other employees too."

Board member Christine Behle states: "All talks about insolvent Air Berlin revolve around economical interests, but not the jobs of more than 8,000 employees."

Air Berlin yesterday disclosed plans to terminate all its flights to Caribbean destinations on 25 September. The carrier had previously said it would end long-haul flights from Berlin and reduce its intercontinental network from Dusseldorf.

FlightGlobal schedules data indicates that Air Berlin's routes from Dusseldorf to Fort Myers, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco have not yet been cut.

The airline filed for insolvency last month. Germany's government has backed a €150 million ($179 million) bridging loan, and talks with potential investors are under way. A deadline to submit bids to acquire Air Berlin or parts of it has been set for 15 September.

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