Last-ditch talks planned to avert Lufthansa strike

BERLIN: German flag-carrier Lufthansa and restive pilots said Saturday they were prepared to hold last-ditch talks to avert a crippling strike after an appeal by Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer.

Europe's leading airline said it favoured dialogue "in order to prevent at the last minute a strike which would have serious consequences for thousands of passengers, the German economy and Lufthansa."

"We have asked for discussions with the management of the group to avoid misunderstandings," said Joerg Handwerg, spokesman for the pilots' union Cockpit.

Earlier Ramsauer called for talks to resume, saying in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that he expected neither side to abandon its claims but warning that a strike would hit the German economy and "the image of the most renowned airline in the world."

"A strike like this is happening at just the wrong moment," Ramsauer said. "The biggest German fleet cannot be virtually grounded for four days."

Lufthansa announced Friday it had cancelled 800 flights daily from Monday to Thursday because of the strike.

"Two-thirds of the Lufthansa flights affected by the strike have been cancelled as a pre-emptive measure," a company statement said.

Regional services would not be affected, it said, and about 1,000 flights would go ahead daily.

The announcement came after the airline, Europe's biggest employing some 100,000 people, failed to reach a deal with the Cockpit union.

The strike could cost Lufthansa more than 65 million euros (88 million dollars), based on an estimate given Thursday which said the airline would lose around 100 million euros if all flights were grounded.

Before announcing the cancellations, the airline stressed that it remained "ready for constructive talks concerning job security" but said the union had rejected an offer to relaunch negotiations.

Cockpit plans a four-day strike from midnight on Monday (2300 GMT on Sunday) to press for a 6.4 percent pay rise, more say in company decisions and commitments that pilots would keep their jobs when Lufthansa shifts passengers to cheaper foreign affiliates.

Lufthansa's subsidiary Germanwings said that despite the strike, it would run two-thirds of its flights.

Lufthansa's worst strike in its history happened nine years ago, causing travel misery for passengers and costing the firm millions of euros.