Lufthansa says pilots' strike to cost up to $103 million

FRANKFURT Fri Apr 4, 2014 11:43am EDT

Cancelled flights of German airline Lufthansa are displayed on a flight schedule board at Munich's airport April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Cancelled flights of German airline Lufthansa are displayed on a flight schedule board at Munich's airport April 2, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) said a three-day walkout by its pilots, which has effectively grounded Germany's largest airline, could cost it up to 75 million euros ($103 million) as it called on their union to return for talks over pay and retirement conditions.

Lufthansa has canceled a total of 3,800 flights over the strike period, which began on Wednesday. It hopes flights will run normally on Saturday, with only a few rescheduled due to crews being out of place as a result of the stoppage.

"A definite calculation will take several days... We estimate it at between 35 million and 75 million euros," Kay Kratky, chief operating officer of Lufthansa German Airlines, told journalists on Friday when asked to calculate the cost of the strike.

"The consequences are disastrous," Kratky said, adding that with seven strikes from various groups of workers to have hit German airlines and airports in the last 12 months, customers would think twice about travelling with a German company.

The pilots union, which has faced a barrage of media criticism in Germany over demands to retain an early retirement scheme, said on Friday it was ready to restart talks at any time.

After years of wage restraint, Germans have become more aggressive in their demands for higher pay over the last couple of years, resulting in a higher number of strikes.

Lufthansa's Chief Executive Christoph Franz has already apologized to customers via a YouTube video and Jens Bischof, chief commercial officer of the group's Passenger Airlines division, has also sent a letter to customers on Facebook.

"I can only apologize for the inconvenience. Please stay loyal," Franz said in the video.

The airline said on Friday that it would not be making any new offer to the pilots before restarting talks. The pilots' union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), has previously called on Lufthansa to make a new offer first.

Lufthansa first wanted to concentrate on returning its operations to normal, and would then contact the union within the next few days, Kratky said.

The union has promised there will be no further pilots' strikes until after the end of the Easter school holidays, which run until the end of the month.

A poll by German public broadcaster ARD released on Thursday evening said that 55 percent of those surveyed supported the strike, far lower than in 2012 when cabin crew went on strike and 75 percent of those surveyed were in support.

($1 = 0.7291 Euros)

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Peter Maushagen; Editing by Arno Schuetze and Elaine Hardcastle)

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