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Iberia pilots to strike during holiday season

Airline readies contingency plan to cover strikes

Iberia's pilots unit Sepla on Wednesday called strikes for Sunday December 18 and Thursday December 29 to protest the company's plans to set up a low-cost carrier for short- and medium-haul flights.

At a news conference, Sepla's chairman, Justo Peral, said the stoppages were called after negotiations with Iberia's management to find an alternative to the creation of Iberia Express had failed to materialize in an agreement. He said the days that had been chosen for the strikes were done to create the least possible disruption to the Spanish tourist industry.

"We do not want to cause harm, but the company does," Peral said. Iberia's cabin crew have opted to continue talks with the management rather than come out on strike with the pilots.

In a statement, Iberia said it regretted the inconvenience to passengers that would be caused by the strikes during the Christmas holiday period and would implement a contingency plan once the Public Works Ministry indicates the minimum services the pilots have to comply with. It said these normally include all flights to and from the Canary and Balearic Islands and 90 percent of long-haul flights as well as between 30 and 50 percent of short- and medium-haul flights.

Iberia said it would attempt to place affected customers on other Iberia flights or on flights or ground routes operated by other companies. Iberia will also offer refunds to customers who request them.

The carrier said it is also in talks with other airlines and ground transport companies to accommodate affected passengers.

Iberia reiterated calls for Sepla to call off the planned stoppages, arguing they were not justified. "The pay and working conditions of current Iberia employees will not be affected by the creation of Iberia Express," the company insisted. It said more pilots would be detailed to long-haul routes as Iberia Express takes over short- and medium-haul routes.

Iberia expects setting up Iberian Express will result in annual cost savings of 100 million euros. Sepla presented an alternative cost-saving plan, which the company claimed would only produce savings of 15 million euros.