Ryanair has called for an urgent review of European air traffic control and warned of a summer “meltdown” after a surge in cancellations.
Airlines in Europe were threatened by industrial action by French air traffic controllers in Marseille over the weekend, adding to what Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said were thousands of recent delays or cancellations because of ATC staff shortages.
Europe’s biggest carrier said it was forced to cancel 1000 flights in May “almost all due to ATC shortages and strikes” or 24 times the 43 services canceled in the same month last year. Rival easyJet canceled 974 flights, compared to just 117 in the same month a year ago, it said.
Across all airlines, Ryanair said 117,000 flights delayed with 61 percent due to ATC staff shortages and strikes.
It said the 56,000 flights delayed 15 minutes or more represented a fourfold increase on the 14,000 flights in this category in May, 2017.
Weather delays had also increased fourfold to 45,000 flights with almost 60 percent happening on Fridays and Saturdays, prompting Ryanair to accuse ATC providers of using adverse weather to cover staff shortages.
“Europe’s ATC providers are approaching the point of meltdown with hundreds of flights being canceled daily simply because they don’t have enough staff to deal with them,’’ O’Leary said.
“The situation is particularly acute at weekends where British and German ATC providers are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.
“Urgent action must now be taken by the UK and German Governments, and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands more flights and millions of passengers will be disrupted, particularly in the peak months of July and August, unless this ATC staffing crisis is addressed”.
O’Leary said the French stoppages were particularly disruptive because they affected flights “that didn’t even touch France” due to an ATC requirement that airlines cancel overflights to protect French domestic routes.
A spokesperson for UK air navigation provider NATS told The Independent the average delay attributable to the agency in the last calendar year was seven seconds.
However, there had been a high increase in demand, including an 18 percent rise in traffic in airspace Ryanair’s Stansted base, that meant there were times when total demand exceeded capacity and traffic had to be regulated.
“We are embarking on a major programme to modernize airspace in South-east England in order to accommodate forecast growth in air traffic,’’ the spokesperson said.
A report cited Monday by Le Parisien said French air traffic control was responsible for a third of the delays in Europe, with French air traffic controllers on strike for 254 days between 2004 and 2016 compared to 46 days in Greece, 37 in Italy and four in Germany.
Air France unions have also been taking industrial action and recently called for four days of strikes from June 23 -26 in support of a wages claim.
Separately, Ryanair renewed its call for a two-drink limit at airports and a ban on alcohol sales before 10am after unruly passengers caused a plane flying from Dublin to party destination Ibiza to divert to Paris on Saturday.