* Ryanair closed last French base in 2011, eyes growth
* Germany pilots ups pressure in dispute over pay, contracts
* 24-hour strikes planned in several European countries
Ryanair said on Thursday it would invest $400 million on establishing hubs for its planes at two French airports, returning to heavily unionised France after the airline's decision to recognise unions.
Europe's largest low-cost carrier, which closed its last hub in France in 2011, has faced several months of strikes as a result of its decision in December to recognise unions.
Pilots in Germany are the latest to step up pressure on the carrier over pay and conditions. A German pilots union said its members would strike on Friday, joining action by crews in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
But Ryanair said when it made its announcement on union recognition in December that the decision would help it expand in countries where unions had a strong influence, like France.
On Thursday, the airline said it would base two planes in Bordeaux and two more in Marseille, using the airports as a hub to add 27 new routes to its summer 2019 schedule. The move would create 60 new Ryanair jobs in each location, it said.
Basing planes at an airport allows an airline to fly a larger number of flights per day from that location. Ryanair, which now has 86 bases, aims to fly 200 million passengers per year by 2024, up from a forecast 139 million this year.
Ryanair said in January it planned to double capacity in France in the next four years to about 20 million passengers, although it said continued strikes might force it to consider cutting short-term growth plans in other markets.
Ryanair has had to cancel 150 flights scheduled for Friday due to the latest strike action by cabin crews in Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Joining in the industrial action, the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) called on Ryanair pilots in Germany to strike from 3.01 a.m. German time (0101 GMT) on Friday to 2.59 a.m. (1259) on Saturday.
‘No improved offer has been made since the last industrial action on Sept. 12. In addition, no conciliation agreement has been reached between Ryanair and VC so far,’ VC said.
Ryanair Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew told VC in a letter dated Sept. 26 and released on Thursday that the airline was ready to enter arbitration with the union.
Ryanair said VC had rejected three German candidates it had suggested for arbitrator and that negotiations should take four to five weeks, not the five months proposed by the union.
Germany's services union Verdi, which represents around 1,000 cabin crew at Ryanair, has said its members would hold rallies on Friday. It said it would decide whether to call for walkouts as well on Thursday evening.
Ryanair has traditionally employed a large proportion of its staff under Irish law, which unions say inconveniences staff and impedes them from accessing local social security benefits.
The European Union executive backed Ryanair workers on Wednesday by saying they should work under contracts in the countries where they live rather than in Ireland where the airline's planes are registered.
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