Air traffic control reforms could cut delays, says O’Leary

Ryanair executives brand single European sky a shambles

Reforming air traffic control could cut some of the delays and cancellations that hit travel last summer, according to Ryanair Holdings chief executive Michael O’Leary and his colleagues.

Air traffic control strikes, particularly in France, delayed Ryanair flights carrying about 22 million of the airline’s passengers this year, its chief operations officer, Neal McMahon, calculated on Tuesday, while they also forced the carrier to cancel some flights.

Mr O’Leary said one of the biggest challenges facing the industry was how to fix Europe’s “broken” air traffic control system.

He argued that Europe should protect flights over countries where air traffic controllers were striking, to ensure they were not disrupted.


French air traffic controllers strike frequently during peak holiday travel, a problem that Ryanair and other airlines have highlighted regularly over the years.

Their industrial action contributed to the bottlenecks that delayed and cancelled flights this summer, hitting millions of holidaymakers.

Many European flights pass through French air space without landing in the country because of its size and position, so air traffic control strikes there disrupt those services and millions of passengers.

Mr O’Leary maintained that separating upper air space and making it the responsibility of Eurocontrol, the Europe-wide air navigation body, would allow “our French friends to have their recreational strikes every Friday and Tuesday” without disrupting over flights.

He and his colleagues pointed out on a Eurocontrol Aviation Straight Talk Live broadcast that air traffic control reform could cut aviation greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent.

They branded the European Union’s single European sky plan, meant to unify air traffic control in the bloc, a “shambles”, saying the European Commission had done nothing for 25 years.

Mr O’Leary maintained that practical solutions such as protecting over flights would ease problems in European air travel while also cutting flight emissions.

He predicted that Ryanair’s average fare could creep up to €50 from €40 over the next five years on the back of higher fuel costs and environmental taxes.

The airline chief said his company had no difficulty with environmental taxes, once they were levied fairly.

Long-haul flights account for 6 per cent of European journeys, but 55 per cent of emissions. “It’s indefensible that people paying the highest air fares are exempt from paying environmental taxes,” Mr O’Leary said.

He pointed out that this meant that an ordinary family going on holiday was paying taxes, while people who could afford trips to China or the United States were not.

Mr O’Leary, Mr McMahon and Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair DAC, the group’s biggest airline, took part in Tuesday’s broadcast.

Eurocontrol director general Eamonn Brennan predicted that limits imposed on European air space by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would continue into next year.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas