Pilots' strike disrupts airline

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A PILOTS' strike will ground up to 90 per cent of Air France flights today, nine days before the World Cup starts in France, writes John Lichfield.

Several plane-loads of Brazilian fans, planning to depart for Europe, have been forced to switch to later flights or other airlines.

It remains unclear whether the strike will continue up to, and beyond, the opening game of the World Cup on 10 June. The largest pilots' union has called a two-week strike until 15 June. Five other, smaller unions are due to abandon their action next weekend.

Formal negotiations, on the state-owned airline's demand for a 15 per cent cut in pilots' pay over three years, broke down on Thursday.

Air France said 90 per cent of its long-haul flights would be abandoned today. It hoped to preserve one in four of its medium-distance and internal flights from Charles de Gaulle airport, but probably less than one in five from Orly.

If the strike is pursued beyond this week, fans travelling to, and within, France for the World Cup should be able to find alternative means of transport.

Long-distance passengers can fly into London or Frankfurt and complete their journey by rail.

Air France said its pilots (who earn up to pounds 100,000 a year) are 20 per cent better paid than those in Britain and Germany. It said pay cuts, in return for shares, will have to be made if the airline is to be part- privatised on schedule in the autumn.