FRANCE - Air France pilots began a four-day strike today in a dispute over proposed increases in their retirement age and the reform of their pension fund, the CNPR.The airline dubbed the move "both unnecessary and dangerous" and warned it would cost €100m.

At issue is a planned lifting of the retirement age to 65 from the current 60, the pilots' union, the Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne (SNPL), said. The action severely disrupted flights, according to reports.

The pilots' pension fund, the Caisse de Retraite du Personnel Navigant Professionnel de l'Aéronautique Civile, has just over 42,000 members and a market value of around €3.2bn.

The airline planned to cancel 60% of its long-haul flights and 50% of its short and medium-haul flights.

Air France chief executive Jean-Cyril Spinetta said the company's hands were tied. He wrote: "Some of your unions started by asking Air France to modify its corporate agreement to maintain the age limit for pilots at 60 years old.

"This request is unfortunately unacceptable as French law prohibits all contractual agreements which would constitute a discrimination penalized by Article L 1132-1 of the Labour Law. In France, contrary to many other European countries such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, age limits for retirement may only be set by law.

"Air France's hands are therefore tied in this respect."

Spinetta argued there would "very little impact" on the career development of younger pilots.

He said: "Experience has shown that, when you allow employees greater leeway to choose their retirement date, these employees have very different attitudes.  

"Furthermore, Air France has also indicated that it is prepared to negotiate the measures accompanying this reform, so that it has very little impact on the average age of retirement."