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Air Berlin pilots who took sudden sick leave called back to work

The German airline is bracing for a second day of flight cancellations amid a surge of sick notices from pilots. The costly move makes the already bankrupt company even less attractive to potential buyers, says its CEO.

As the troubled Air Berlin warned on its website that its flights would face disruption for a second day on Wednesday, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) called on pilots who had taken part in a collective spell of sick leave to return to work.

Dobrindt was cited by the tabloid Bild as saying that insolvency at Germany's second-biggest airline is "a huge burden for all employees, especially because of the uncertainties surrounding the future of jobs."

Watch video 01:26

Air Berlin flights cancelled

This is precisely why "it is important to maintain airline operations as best as possible and not to delay the customer," he said in a message to the German carrier's absent pilots.

On Tuesday, the bankrupt carrier received sickness notes from some 250 out of 1,500 pilots that were due to fly that day, according to Spiegel Online. More than 100 flights were cancelled as a result of what is being interpreted as a wildcat strike.

Some short-haul flights at Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings were also hit because it leases 33 planes with crews from Air Berlin.

Second day of disruption

The company said later on Tuesday that 150 pilots were still "sick" and warned that dozens of flights from Düsseldorf Airport were in doubt on Wednesday.

It asked passengers to check the status of their flight on the airline's website before leaving for the airport.

Air Berlin CEO Thomas Winkelmann

Air Berlin CEO Thomas Winkelmann has warned that the walk-out puts the future of the troubled airline at risk

Along with the pilots' union Cockpit and the workers' council, the firm demanded that those fit to work to turn up for duty. But the large services union Verdi warned that more of its workers could call in sick.

"All the conversations surrounding insolvent Air Berlin are always about its economic interests, never about the jobs of its more than 8,000 employees," said Verdi board member Christine Behle.

Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy protection last month after its biggest shareholder, Etihad Airways, withdrew funding following years of losses. Potential investors have until Friday to submit binding offers for the budget airline.

Buyers line up

Watch video 01:23

Ryanair withholds bid for Air Berlin

Among the potential suitors are Lufthansa, EasyJet, package holiday firm TUI and German businessman Hans Rudolf Wohri.

The wildcat action is likely to cost the German carrier some 4-5 million euros a day, leading the German carrier's CEO Thomas Winkelmann to call it an "existential threat."

The German government was forced last month to provide the airline with a bridging loan of 150 million euros (180 million dollars) to help it to continue operating.

mm/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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