Union leaders say Air France Group chief executive Benjamin Smith is pursuing personal ambition to meet profit targets despite warnings that safety could be compromised.
Unlike some European airlines, Air France has not cut its schedule during the busy summer months, but the pilots' union says this “stability” maintained artificially, despite the lack of personnel, including among pilots and flight attendants.
As a result, flights are operated in violation of European safety rules with reduced crew numbers and minimal rest periods.
The union argues that the most notable consequence of this practice is “unwarranted chronic fatigue”; at the pilots. It is worrying that already about 10 percent of pilots have gone to the doctors and reported that they are “in a state of depression.”
Air France dismissed the union's concerns, saying the safety of staff and passengers remains its “top priority”. The airline spokesman added that 700 additional pilots will be hired by December, and in fact, the working hours of Air France pilots remain lower than those of other carriers.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sets an upper limit on working hours of 900 hours a year for pilots, but Air France claims that on average its pilots only work 650 hours a year. By comparison, British and German pilots work 850 hours a year.
The situation may be even worse for Middle Eastern airlines, where working hours are calculated differently and do not always take into account in-flight rest periods. If they were calculated in the same way as in Europe, Air France believes that pilots in the Gulf region would work up to 1,200 hours a year.
In May, the Air France flight attendants union said that conditions for board became “deplorable”. The shortage of staff came to a head when the airline asked flight attendants not to take vacations in July and August, but to “postpone” them.