, FRANKFURT, Feb 17 – Air travellers in Germany faced a second day of delays, cancellations and disruption on Friday due to a walkout by around 200 workers at Frankfurt airport, Europe’s third-busiest, in a dispute over pay.
After already grounding 172 flights during an initial seven-hour stoppage on Thursday, the so-called “apron control” staff walked off the job again at 8am (0700 GMT) on Friday, said a spokesman for Fraport, the company which owns and operates Germany’s largest airport.
The walkout is scheduled to last until 10pm (2100 GMT), but Fraport has drawn up contingency staffing and hopes to be able to ensure that “more than 50 percent” of take-offs and landings go ahead, the spokesman said.
Fraport said that airlines had so far cancelled more than 280 from a total 1,300 planned flights on Friday.
German airline Lufthansa, which has its main base in Frankfurt, has said it will cancel 250 flights on Friday, following 100 the day before.
It and other airlines are keen to maintain long-haul flights as passengers travelling within Germany can be booked more easily on to trains and national rail operator Deutsche Bahn has laid on more trains and staff to cope with the additional traffic volume.
According to Lufthansa’s website, it was primarily domestic flights that are being cancelled, as well as a number of services to some European destinations, and only one outgoing and one incoming flight from New York.
The wage dispute concerns some 200 so called “apron control” staff who direct aircraft in and out of their parking positions, both in the control tower and on the tarmac.
The GdF union called for warning strikes after Fraport turned down mediation proposals in their wage dispute.
The union argues that apron controllers’ pay does not take into account the additional complexity resulting from the opening late last year of a fourth runway in Frankfurt.
According to documents made available by Fraport, the union is demanding pay rises of 25-50 percent, depending on a worker’s grade, as well as increased bonuses and reduced working hours.
The company has dismissed the demands as excessive and could set a precedent for other airport employees.
GdF said no industrial action was planned for the weekend.
Following “two tempestuous days”, the union wanted to give management “pause for thought,” chief negotiator Dirk Vogelsang told AFP.
“The ball is in Fraport’s court. They must take a step towards us, Vogelsang said.
Fraport, for its part, called on the union to “return to the negotiating table and show a willingness to compromise.”
Already on Thursday, the strike action drew condemnation industry federation BDL and BDI.
“That just 200 out of 20,000 people who work at Frankfurt airport want to paralyse the entire operation is unacceptable,” said BDL chief Klaus-Peter Siegloch.
“This tiny group is taking tens of thousands of passengers hostage for their pay demands. The strike will lead to delays and cancellations for passengers beyond Frankfurt, as the entire European flight network will be affected,” Siegloch said.
A board member of the powerful BDI industry federation, Dieter Schweer, said the strike would damage the whole economy.
“It is irresponsible and totally out of proportion,” he said.
“It is not acceptable that small groups in key functions paralyse critical infrastructures to push through their own individual interests.”
Frankfurt airport is Europe’s third-busiest after London-Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle, with about 1,300 flight movements per day, more than half of them by Lufthansa.
GdF repeatedly threatened strike action last year in a long-running wage dispute for regular air traffic controllers.
A strike was finally averted when the union and Germany’s air safety authority DFS both sides finally reached a deal in court in October.