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Days for Air Berlin numbered as pilots ground flights

Air Berlin’s efforts to maintain its status as Germany’s second powerful airline have suffered another major blow as pilots call in sick in unusually high numbers to ground dozens of flights.

Reports from the company on Tuesday said that some 200 pilots had called in sick to cancel about 100 flights by late morning. The absence also hit some short-haul flights at Eurowings, the budget airline of Lufthansa, Germany’s biggest airline, which leases 33 planes with crews from Air Berlin.

The Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), a union representing Air Berlin pilots, denied it had any role in the collective absence of the crew on Tuesday.

The cancelations are expected to further complicate efforts aimed at persuading major investors to buy shares in Air Berlin. Sources said disruptions such as the one on Tuesday can cost the company four to five million euros a day.

The airline filed for bankruptcy protection last month. That came after Etihad Airways, the biggest shareholder in Air Berlin, withdrew funding following years of losses. Air Berlin has set September 15 as a deadline for potential investors to submit their binding offers.

Some believe that Lufthansa would finally buy large parts of Air Berlin and a decision on the bids could come as early as September 21.

Chief Operations Officer Oliver Iffert lamented the dire situation of Air Berlin, saying the company should speed up efforts to regain its previous position.

“Today is a day that threatens the existence of Air Berlin,” said Iffert in an internal memo, adding, “We must return to stable operations. That is crucial in order to bring talks with investors to a successful conclusion.”

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