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Dozens of Lufthansa flights grounded in latest pilots' strike

Germany's flagship carrier has again been forced to cancel numerous flights due to a pilots' strike. The Lufthansa pilots have staged a series of walkouts over the past year in a dispute over an early retirement scheme.

A statement posted on the Lufthansa website advised passengers of Thursday's strike called by the pilots' union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC). The statement said Thursday's walkout would affect long-haul flights but that short-haul routes would not be affected. It also provided advice on how passengers planning to travel on the affected flights could rebook.

A Lufthansa spokesman told the DPA news agency that the company expected just over half of Thursday's 84 scheduled long-haul flights from and to Frankfurt and Munich to go ahead. The cancelled flights affected around 18,000 passengers, the spokesman said. Separately, the AFP news agency cited a spokesman who said the airline had done its best to warn passengers in advance, using text messages and emails.

This follows

Wednesday's strike,

which grounded more than half of Lufthansa's 1,400 domestic and European flights, affecting around 80,000 passengers. Late on Wednesday, the union announced that it was

extending the strike to a third day, on Friday, which is also to hit short- and medium-haul flights.

The airline said it would seek to resume normal service on long-haul routes as much as possible on Friday.

Early retirement a bone of contention

VC has called its pilots off the job in a series of walkouts over the past year, designed to back up their demand that management back off on a plan to do away with so-called 'transition contracts' handed to pilots who stop flying before the legal age of retirement. These allow pilots to retire as early as age 55 while receiving up to 60 percent of their salary until they reach retirement age.

A VC spokesman told DPA on Thursday that the pilots regretted having to repeatedly go out on strike, but that management had "not moved at all" in contract negotiations. Prior to the start of Wednesday's work stoppage, Lufthansa issued a statement in which it said it had made an improved offer to the pilots in recent days and that the latest strike lacked "any proportionality."

pfd/bw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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