Tuesday, November 29th 2005 - 20:00 UTC

Aerolineas Argentinas flies on rented planes

Argentina's largest airline reported Tuesday it is renting aircraft from other companies to resume part of its operations idled by a six-day-long strike by pilots and mechanics.

Aerolineas Argentinas also said 168 pilots and mechanics were fired, bringing to 337 the number of workers who have lost their jobs since the strike over salaries started.

According to the Argentine flag carrier spokesman Julio Scaramella the work stoppage has cost the company 8.5 million US dollars in lost income after being forced to cancel 258 domestic and international flights.

Scaramella said nearly 52.000 passengers have been affected. However he said the company was willing to reach an agreement with the 480 pilots and 1.700 employees soon. Strikers are demanding 45% increase but the airline has offered 5%.

"The company is renting airplanes from other companies in order to fulfill our obligations with those who have bought tickets," he said.

Striking workers from Aerolineas Argentinas again blocked the road to Ezeiza, the country's main international airport and the Costanera next to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, the leading domestic flights air terminal in Buenos Aires City.

Hundreds of passengers were forced to walk with their luggage under a scorching sun for more than two kilometers to reach Ezeiza.

Spanish group Marsans CEO Antonio Mata (which owns Aerolineas Argentinas) arrived from Madrid in Buenos Aires Monday and has been meeting with Argentine government officials in an attempt to find a way out to the conflict.

Representatives from five of Aerolineas Argentinas unions that are not supporting the pilots and mechanics strike claim Argentine Labour ministry officials are "committed" to solve the labour dispute.

"We do not support this savage stoppage tactics which makes passengers and workers hostages and breaks the natural trust that must exist with passengers who are the activity engine of our industry", said Ricardo Frecia, head of the Argentine Air crews association.

Ricardo Cimaro head of one of the pro-work unions said that Labour Minister Carlos Tomada promised he would do everything possible to undo the conflict and condemned the fact that over "30.000 passengers remain stranded".

Congress member Alicia Castro and a former of the air crews union said that "80% of workers are not supporting the strike and disagree with this type of protest which makes passengers hostages of the conflict".

Ms. Castro emphasized 6.800 of Aerolineas staff reject the strike and called on both sides to "reestablish a serious and responsible dialogue".

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