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Air Berlin cancels flights as pilots go on sick leave

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The insolvent German airline is taking another hit as an "unusually high number" of pilots have called in sick leading to a series of flight cancellations. Reportedly staff are unhappy about talks with potential buyers.

Departures information on Air Berlins website on Tuesday, showed flights cancelled from a range of German airports including Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Cologne. German mass-selling tabloid Bild reported that altogether 70 flights had to be called off and that a "revolt among pilots" was allegedly the reason for it. An Air Berlin statement said that an "unusually high number" of pilots called in sick.

Passengers were urgently requested to check on the airlines website www.airberlin.com/fluginfo to see whether or not their flight would depart according to schedule, it added. In its report, Bild said that pilots may have resorted to the tactic of sickness-related absence because of job fears following a takeover of the insolvent airline by a new owner.

Germanys second-largest airline was forced to file for bankruptcy protection last month after shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew funding following years of losses. Long-haul flights cut short.

Several bidders are lining up to buy the airlines assets, with Lufthansa seen in pole position to acquire large parts of its rival. They have until Sept. 15 to submit binding offers, with a decision possible as early as Sept. 21.

Representatives of the German pilots union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) fear however that massive price increases on Air Berlins long distance flights recently are intended to render those routes unprofitable.

VC boss Ilja Schulz told the German daily Rheinische Post on Tuesday that apparently those flights should be "made unattractive to passengers and finally shut down," with the aim of dismissing as many well-paid pilots as possible before a takeover. "The insolvency administrator could get rid of the pilots more easily," he said.

Schulz also described those attempts by Air Berlin as a scandal which the pilots union wouldnt tolerate.

uhe/jh (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
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