Airberlin canceled more than 100 flights Sept. 12 after pilots called in sick in unusually high numbers fearing possible redundancies at the bankrupt German carrier. If the situation does not change in the short term, airberlin said it will be forced to suspend operations.

Airberlin filed for insolvency Aug. 15 after 29.2% shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew financial support and is in the process of seeking buyers for its assets. Potential buyers are required to submit offers before Sept. 15.

CEO Thomas Winkelmann confirmed in a statement that airberlin has been “forced to cancel more than 100 flights today from our planned 750 flights. The reason for this is that 200 of our 1,500 pilots called in sick on short notice during the crew briefing and just shortly before they arrived at the aircraft.”

Pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) said it has noted the fact that the number of airberlin flights has been dropped by a large number of pilot sickness reports; however, at no time has the VC called for pilots to stage a sick out.

The VC said in a Sept. 12 statement, “The union is convinced that a social plan negotiation through a regular transition of staff is the only way to get as large a number of jobs as possible. Therefore, the VC has pointed out to all the cockpit staff represented by it that they have to fulfill their obligations under the employment contract, provided there is no acute reason for an illness.”

Winkelmann said, “What we see today is a game with the fire. Today costs us several million euros. We are currently conducting the final talks with potential investors. A stable operation is the imperative prerequisite for the success of these negotiations. This is the only way to secure as many jobs as possible.”

Authorized general contractor Frank Kebekus said, “Today’s events severely endanger the entire insolvency proceedings in self-administration. If the situation does not change in the short term, we will suspend our operations including all restoration efforts.”

ATW understands that today’s flight cancellations have affected more than 8,000 passengers booked on European and long-haul flights from Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Cologne.

“Airberlin has €100 million ($120 million) in operational costs every month; this scenario can no longer continue,” a member of the airberlin management told ATW.

Another source told ATW that flight operations could be suspended from midnight.

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at