French strikes cost us more than volcano: airlines

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French airlines complained Thursday that strikes and fuel protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reform bill have now cost them more than April's Icelandic volcano scare.

Back then a cloud of ash from the Eyjafjoell eruption caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled across Europe, and cost French airlines 188 million euros (263 million dollars) in delays and lost business.

Now, a series of strikes by airport staff and emergency measures to ensure a supply of aviation fuel despite protests at refineries and fuel depots has cost the industry still more, and the bill is still rising.

"The costs are higher than they were for the volcano," said Lionel Guerin, who is head of the airline industry trade association FNAM and chief executive of two airlines, Airlinair and Transavia France.

He did not put a total figure on the costs so far, but France's largest airline Air France had already said that each day of strike action has cost it alone five million euros.

French unions have staged six nationwide days of protest over the past two months and unions in some sectors -- including fuel distribution -- have begun open-ended strikes to defend workers' right to retire at 60.

© 2010 AFP

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