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Air France pilots back domestic network overhaul

PARIS, Aug 12 – Air France pilots voted to approve an overhaul of the airline’s lossmaking domestic network, their main union said on Wednesday, clearing the way for an expansion of low-cost arm Transavia.

In a referendum organised by the SNPL union, more than 90% of pilots backed plans by Air France-KLM group CEO Ben Smith to allow the budget division to take over some domestic routes from Air France and its HOP! short-haul operation.

After the vote both sides signed formal amendments to labour agreements that had previously barred Transavia from domestic services, the airline group said.

The coronavirus crisis has helped Smith, who joined from Air Canada in 2018, to carry out once taboo reforms to domestic services that lost 200 million euros ($236 million) last year.

Under the restructuring plans, Smith aims to cut French domestic services by 40% and transfer some routes to Transavia along with take-off and landing slots at Paris Orly airport.

“The rapid endorsement of this agreement is a major step forward in the Air France-KLM Group’s recovery strategy,” he said in a company statement on Wednesday.

Unions are also cooperating with plans announced last month to cut 7,580 jobs at Air France in response to the pandemic, with KLM eliminating thousands more.

The group, which recorded a 1.55 billion euro second-quarter operating loss, has received 10.4 billion euros in loans issued or guaranteed by the French and Dutch governments. ($1 = 0.8480 euros) (Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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