Airlines voice concern over ATC strikes

Airlines and tourism associations have expressed major concerns over the impact of ongoing Air Traffic Control (ATC) strikes in Europe.

International Airlines Group (IAG), Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air have all submitted complaints to the European Commission against France, arguing that the strikes restrict the principle of freedom of movement within the EU. In a statement the airlines said so far this year French ATC strikes have increased by 300% versus 2017.

The airlines stated they, “Are not questioning the right to strike but believe France is breaking EU law by not enabling flights over the country during strikes. Passengers on overflights are being denied their fundamental freedom to travel between member states not affected by strike action.”

“The right to strike needs to be balanced against freedom of movement. It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected during French ATC strikes,” said Willie Walsh, IAG’s chief executive. “Passengers on routes that overfly France, especially the large airspace that covers Marseille and the Mediterranean, are also subject to delays and massive disruptions. This affects all airlines but has a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.”

Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, said: “We fully respect the right to strike and have been in constructive dialogue with the EU and the French government to address the issue of ATC strikes. Unfortunately, our passengers have felt little progress so far, which is why we felt it is necessary to take this next step – particularly given the sustained industrial action this year which has totalled 29 days to date.”

According to Eurocontrol, more than 16,000 flights had been delayed by June this year due to ATC strikes, affecting more than two million passengers.

Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary called the disruptions “unacceptable,” adding: “We call on Europe’s Governments and the EU Commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that ATC providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.”

József Váradi, Wizz Air’s chief executive, said the issue “Must be a priority for the European authorities to ensure European citizens and businesses are no longer held hostage to national industrial relations issues.”

Meanwhile, tourism associations in the EU are also voicing concerns over the impact of ATC strikes.

The Network for the European Private Sector in Tourism (NET) a group of European tourism trade associations, is joining Airlines for Europe’s (A4E) efforts to minimise the strikes’ impact on travellers and tourism across the EU.

Thomas Reynaert, managing director of Airlines for Europe (A4E) said: “2018 is shaping up to be one of the worst years ever for ATC strikes in Europe. We stand together with NET, its members and Europe’s tourism industry as a whole in calling on authorities to take immediate action to improve the situation and reverse the trend.”

In a statement A4E said the strikes disrupt airline operations as the carriers need to pay compensation for the delays and rebook passengers on alternative flights. The association also argues that diversions to avoid closed air space result in longer flights, burning more fuel and resulting in higher CO2 emissions. A4E says the strikes also impact on tourism, putting small and medium-size businesses at risk, as well as impacting tour operators.

A4E proposed solutions including a mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for employees wishing to strike, protection of overflights (while not at the expense of the country where the strike originates) and improved continuity of service for passengers.

The association also suggested investment is required in technology, processes and human resources to help make Europe’s air traffic management system more capable of coping with the increasing traffic.

Written by: Kimberley Young

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