Airlines urge Brussels to act on French ATC strikes

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July 25, 2018
Airlines complain to Brussels about ATC strikes
BA city flyer Embraer

International Airlines Group (IAG), Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air have urged Brussels to act on French air traffic control strikes that have disrupted thousands of flights so far this year.

The airlines targeted France’s policy to cancel overflights to protect domestic routes in a joint complaint lodged this week in the European Commission.

In a joint statement, the airlines said they were not questioning the right to strike but believed France was breaking EU law by not enabling flights over the country during strikes.

They argued the policy meant French air traffic controller strikes restricted the fundamental principle of freedom of movement within the EU.

Passengers on overflights were being denied their fundamental freedom to travel between member states not affected by strike action, they said.

The airlines believe there is a precedent for the complaint: a successful 1997 Spanish filing to the commission about French farmers preventing fruit and vegetable exports to the EU.

They said French air traffic control strikes had increased by 300 percent versus 2017 so far this year and noted that the French Senate had confirmed France is responsible about a third of flight delays in Europe.

“It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected during French ATC strikes,’’ IAG chief executive Willie Walsh said.

“Passengers on routes that overfly France, especially the large airspace that covers Marseille and the Mediterranean, are also subject to delays and massive disruptions.”

The airlines complain the lack of progress in solving the French industrial strife has left them to pick up the pieces of the “massive disruption to the travel plans of thousands of passengers across Europe”.

They also want wider action on ATC disruptions, citing Eurocontrol figures showing  more than 16,000 flights had been delayed by June this year due to strikes and more than two million passengers had been affected.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary reiterated his stance that Europe’s ATC providers were reaching the point of meltdown.

READ: Ryanair warns of European air traffic meltdown.

O’Leary called on national governments and the European Commission to take urgent action to ensure air traffic controllers were fully staffed and that overflights were not affected when strikes take place.

“When Greece and Italy have ATC strikes, overflights continue as normal,’’ he said. “ Why won’t France do the same?

“ATC providers (especially in Germany and the UK) are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the truth is they are not rostering enough air traffic controllers to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.”

Ryanair also has its own industrial trouble with pilots in Ireland striking for a third day this week and cabin and ground crew in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy also taking action in support of improved conditions.

The low-cost carrier on Monday reported a 20 percent decline in first-quarter profit despite a 7 percent rise in passenger numbers and 9 percent increase in revenue.

It said overcapacity in Europe and the earlier timing of Easter saw fares fall 4 percent while costs rose on higher fuel prices, the impact of industrial action and higher staff expenses, including a 20 percent increase in pilot pay.

The airline predicted fares would remain flat in the second quarter, rising just 1 percent instead of an expected 4 percent, but retained its 2019 financial year after tax profit guidance of  €1.25bn to €1.35bn.