updated 5/31/2011 10:47:55 AM ET 2011-05-31T14:47:55

Irish airline Aer Lingus warned Tuesday its services could be grounded indefinitely if pilots carry out a threat next week to disrupt their work schedules.

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Aer Lingus members of the Irish Air Line Pilots Association told the airline that pilots will report for duty one hour late and refuse to reschedule work days starting June 7. About 87 percent of pilots voted to take the action over company efforts to make them accept longer working hours and more flexible shifts.

"This withdrawal of flexibility will destroy our ability to operate a proper schedule as we will miss our airport slot times, parking stands, gate positions and will be unable to fulfill flight connections for customers," said Christoph Mueller, chief executive of Aer Lingus.

He said the pilots' delayed arrivals would clash with the fixed work shifts of cabin crews and "may lead to a full cancellation of operations" starting June 7.

Airline executives and the pilots' union, Impact, were expected to seek a resolution in negotiations mediated by the Labour Relations Commission in Dublin, but the two sides appeared far apart.

Aer Lingus has repeatedly battled labor unions and suffered service disruptions since Ireland's privatization of the airline in 2006. It has laid off nearly two-thirds of its 2006 work force, an expensive proposition that required large compensation payments.

The carrier faces stiff competition on European routes from its larger Dublin-based rival Ryanair, Europe's biggest budget airline.

Ryanair, which refuses to negotiate with unions, since 2006 has sought to acquire Aer Lingus and already is its biggest shareholder with a 30 percent stake. Aer Lingus, its employees and the Irish government — which retains a 25 percent stake — all oppose any Ryanair takeover.

Aer Lingus' traditional income-earner, trans-Atlantic routes linking Ireland with several U.S. cities, has been squeezed by tough economic times and increased direct competition with American, Continental and Delta airlines.

Aer Lingus returned to net profit in 2010 for the first time in three years but has warned it could struggle to break even this year given Ireland's continuing recession and rising fuel costs.

Aer Lingus shares fell 3 percent to €0.79 ($1.14) on Tuesday's news of renewed labor unrest.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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