Balkan Airlines pilots appeal to government

SOFIA, May 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) Striking pilots of Bulgaria's national carrier Balkan Airlines appealed to the government on Monday to help resolve their six-day strike.

The strike, over pay and job security, has grounded the airline and prompted Transport Minister Antoni Slavinski to warn it could lose its license to fly.

"I appeal to the government - please, help us find a way out of this situation," said Krassimir Lyutskanov, spokesman for the pilots' union.

He told reporters that talks on Sunday with management had been close to agreement but had collapsed when the bosses issued a statement blaming the union.

"The confidence we had in management has evaporated after yesterday's events," Lyutskanov said.

State news agency BTA quoted a senior Balkan official as saying the company, meanwhile, would seek a court ruling on the legality of the protest.

By Monday morning, some 50 flights had been cancelled since the protest by the 260 pilots started last Wednesday and none of Balkan's 15 flights scheduled for Monday were expected to take off.

International flights by other carriers were operating normally, a Sofia airport official said.

Balkan Airlines is majority owned by the Israeli Zeevi Group which bought a 75 percent stake in the indebted company last June for $150,000, pledging to invest $100 million over five years and to pay the company's debts of $100 million.

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