The insolvent German airline is taking another hit as an "unusually high number" of pilots have called in sick leading to a series of flight cancellations. Reportedly staff are unhappy about talks with potential buyers.
Departures information on Air Berlin's website on Tuesday, showed flights cancelled from a range of German airports including Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Cologne. More than 100 flights had to be called off, a spokesman for the airline said, after about 200 pilots had called in sick.
Passengers were urgently requested to check on the airline's website to see whether or not their flight would depart according to schedule, Air Berlin said in a statement.
Oliver Iffert, head of Air Berlin flight operations, said in a message to staff: "This is a day when the existence of Air Berlin is threatened."
German mass-selling tabloid Bild reported that the alleged reason for the pilots' sickness-related absence was a "revolt." Bild said that pilots may have resorted to the tactic because of job fears following a takeover of the insolvent airline by a new owner.
Germany's second-largest airline was forced to file for bankruptcy protection last month after shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew funding following years of losses.
Long-haul flights cut short
Several bidders are lining up to buy the airline's assets, with Lufthansa seen in pole position to acquire large parts of its rival. They have until Sept. 15 to submit binding offers, with a decision possible as early as Sept. 21.
Representatives of the German pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) fear, however, that massive price increases on Air Berlin's long distance flights recently are intended to render those routes unprofitable.
VC boss Ilja Schulz told the German daily Rheinische Post on Tuesday that apparently those flights should be "made unattractive to passengers and finally shut down," with the aim of dismissing as many well-paid pilots as possible before a takeover. "The insolvency administrator could get rid of the pilots more easily," he said.
Schulz also described those attempts by Air Berlin as a scandal which the pilots' union wouldn't tolerate.
uhe/jh (Reuters, dpa, AFP)