A sudden walkout by pilots at Air Berlin threatens the survival prospects of the stricken airline.

The wildcat action, with almost 200 of its 1,500 pilots calling in sick, forced the cancellation of more than 110 flights out of a planned 750 yesterday, disrupting around 12,000 passengers.

The carrier’s chief executive Thomas Winkelmann claimed the move by pilots to call in sick at short notice was “the equivalent to playing with fire” and would cost the troubled airline “several million euros”.

With the deadline drawing close for investors to submit bids for Air Berlin, operations are facing increasing disruption.

“What happened today massively jeopardizes the entire insolvency proceedings,” Frank Kebekus, the airline’s general representative appointed by a court, said.

“Unless the situation changes in the short term, we will have to end operations and all efforts to reorganise.”

Air Berlin’s insolvency administrator will accept bids until Friday, and the airline’s creditor committee will meet on September 21, possibly to decide how the company will be liquidated.

Rival Lufthansa is the only airline to have publicly made a bid for Air Berlin, although others such as Thomson Cook’s German airline Condor and easyJet are thought to be interested in assets belonging to the airline.

Hans Rudolf Woehrl, an aviation entrepreneur who sold various carriers to Air Berlin in the past reportedly submitted an offer that may amount to €500 million.

Passengers with tickets on cancelled flights will be offered other travel options but should check the status of their flights before travelling. Those travelling on Air Berlin as part of a package deal are encouraged to contact their travel agent.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advice for Germany yesterday to say: “Air Berlin services are subject to severe disruption due to staff shortages; if you’re travelling with Air Berlin you should check your flight status before travelling.”


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