An alarming increase in air traffic control strikes across Europe has wreaked havoc on airlines, their passengers and business, according to Airlines for Europe.
This year is shaping up to be one of the worst years ever for such strikes in Europe.
Year-to-date, A4E member airlines have been forced to cancel nearly 5,000 flights as a result of the strikes, directly impacting around 784,000 passengers across Europe.
In addition, millions of travellers have been affected by flight delays caused by airspace diversions and residual backups.
According to Eurocontrol, 39,000 flights – around 30 per cent of the total en-route delays in May – were delayed due to air traffic control strikes.
In addition, Eurocontrol projects total delay minutes for 2018 will be up by 53 per cent compared to 2017 as a result of strikes and capacity shortages (14.3 million in 2018 versus 9.3 million minutes in 2017).
PriceWaterhouseCoopers showed that the economic cost of air traffic control strikes in the EU between 2010-2017 was €13.4 billion.
Last summer, the European Commission said that since 2005 there have been around 357 air traffic control strikes in the EU, 254 of which have occurred in France.
Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “IAG and Ryanair are planning to submit a complaint to the European Commission as air traffic control strikes represent the biggest challenge for our industry.
“They are destroying European air traffic and having a huge impact on consumers.
“It’s a really frustrating cause of disruption that affects all airlines but in particular has a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.
“Continuous strikes by air traffic control staff in Marseille have a disproportionate impact on those airlines flying from Barcelona because they control flights over most of the Mediterranean airspace.
“For Vueling this means that 50 per cent of its flights are affected.
“The EU must act now to protect the rights of the consumers and prevent long term damage to European economies”.
In response to the continued air traffic control strike disruptions, A4E has proposed a mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for employees wishing to strike, protection of overflights while ensuring it does not come to the detriment of local services, and a guarantee on minimum services to be provided.
IAG and Ryanair’s complaint will argue that by not adequately protecting flights over France, EU law is infringed.
In a rare show of unity between legacy and low-cost carriers, Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive, added: “These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on the governments, and the EU commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that air traffic control providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.
“Europe’s air traffic control providers are approaching the point of meltdown with hundreds of flights being cancelled daily either because of strikes or because Europe’s air traffic controllers don’t have enough staff.
“The situation is particularly acute at weekends where British and German air traffic control providers are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the truth is they are not rostering enough air traffic control 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 air traffic control staffing crisis is addressed.”
Eurocontrol director general Eamonn Brennan earlier this week warned under investment in air traffic control capacity could see millions of passengers grounded in coming years.
Watch a – slightly odd – video of the Airlines for Europe press conference below: