BEIRUT (AFP) – Pilots from Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines (MEA) began a 24-hour strike on Thursday in a bid to reclaim benefits lost nine years ago, grounding 23 flights and some 5,000 passengers.
“All flights for today have been halted,” Mohammed Houmany, who heads the Lebanese pilots’ syndicate, told AFP.
“We allowed one flight from Paris to land early this morning and will fly another carrier in from Abidjan later this evening for passengers who are only transiting in Lebanon, but that’s it,” he added.
“And we are ready for another strike if our demands are not met.”
Around 180 pilots were involved in the action which began at 3:00 am (0000 GMT).
They are demanding higher starting salaries and more days off, benefits they lost when MEA underwent a massive restructuring between 1998 and 2002.
The overhaul turned annual losses of close to 87 million dollars (65.7 million euros) in 1997 to a net profit of 22 million dollars (16.6 million euros) in 2003, according to the airline’s website.
But it severely reduced pilot benefits while increasing their working hours.
In a message on its website, the carrier apologised to passengers for the “inconvenience” of the “unauthorised disruption of flights.”
Its chairman Mohammed Hout was due to hold a press conference at noon (0900 GMT).
MEA, Lebanon’s national flag-carrier, has been active since 1945 and is majority-owned by the central bank.
In 2009, the carrier announced a profit of more than 100 million dollars (75.8 million euros).