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SAirGroup’s French airlines go out on strike

Several AOM and Air Liberté flights were grounded on Wednesday Keystone

The troubled SAirGroup is facing yet another headache after staff at the French airlines AOM and Air Liberté, in which the group has 49 per cent stakes, went on strike on Wednesday.

Unions called on all staff to stop work and demonstrate in the centre of Paris over their concerns about the future of the two loss-making airlines.

Management of the two airlines have said the strike would leave the airlines’ national network grounded on Wednesday. However, long-haul flights will not be affected by the action and 80 per cent of flights on the regional network will be maintained.

The chief executive of the French airlines involved, Marc Rochet, has proposed a radical restructuring plan to win the SAirGroup’s support before the crucial annual shareholders’ meeting on Zurich on April 25. It includes a slimming down of the airlines’ operations and job cuts for 25 per cent of the workforce.

The new chairman and chief executive of the SAirGroup, Mario Corti, earlier this month cut off funding for Air Littoral, a smaller French airline in which the group has a stake. He said a decision on AOM and Air Liberté would be made at the shareholders’ meeting.

A week ago, Rochet won support for his restructuring plans at a lengthy works council meeting. He warned that if shareholders stopped supporting the airlines, they would not have enough cash for the coming months.

The SAirGroup, which announced losses of SFr2.9 billion ($1.68 billion) earlier this month, said it was losing SFr80 million a month on its French operations, which employ some 7,000 people.

Shares in the SAirGroup have plummeted in recent weeks and fell by a further 4.6 per cent on Tuesday to SFr113, amid mounting fears that its losses may have legal consequences for its directors.

The entire board, apart from Corti, announced they would be stepping down shortly before the group losses were announced.

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, and the transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, have said the board must take responsibility for the company’s dire financial situation.

Zurich’s director of public prosecutions, Hanspeter Hirt, has already opened an inquiry that is focusing on the SAirGroup’s profit and loss account to determine if it gave an accurate picture of the real financial situation.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR