Airline lobby group proposals aim to cut air traffic control strikes

French plan would require several days’ notice to government of intention to strike

Airlines for Europe managing director Thomas Reynaert said proposals to limit cancellations and delays caused by air-traffic control strikes in Europe are pragmatic. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Airlines for Europe managing director Thomas Reynaert said proposals to limit cancellations and delays caused by air-traffic control strikes in Europe are pragmatic. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

The airline lobby group backed by Irish carriers Ryanair and Aer Lingus hopes new proposals will limit cancellations and delays caused by air-traffic control strikes in Europe.

Airlines for Europe estimates that striking air-traffic controllers caused 278 days of disruption in the European Union between 2010 and 2016, hitting 2.5 million passengers, among them many Irish travellers.

The organisation’s managing director, Thomas Reynaert, believes that a new proposal from France, where about half the strikes occur, could ease the impact that such industrial action has on passengers.

It would require individual air-traffic controllers to notify the government of their intention to strike several days in advance. This already applies to public transport workers.

Mr Reynaert acknowledged that the proposal was not as “ambitious” as the organisation’s other suggestions, which included introducing rules requiring that workers take part in arbitration before threatening strikes and give long periods of advance notice.

Pragmatic

Nevertheless he stressed that the proposal was practical and had the support of one of the biggest unions involved. “We’re being very pragmatic, this is much more realistic in terms of what’s politically viable,” he said.

France’s air-traffic controllers strike most frequently, followed by Germany’s. Their action hits flights through each country’s airspace as well as those to and from the countries.

Thus flights between the Republic and of eastern and southern Europe either face long delays because they have to detour, or have to be cancelled. According to Mr Reynaert, journeys between northern and southern halves of the EU are worst hit.

A survey commissioned by the organisation from PricewaterhouseCoopers found the strikes have wiped €12 billion from the EU’s economy since 2010. Almost 60 per cent of this came from tourism. Southern Europe, the destination for most of the bloc’s holidaymakers, suffered most as a result. “That includes the south of France,” Mr Reynaert noted.

Airlines for Europe now represents 14 groups that include 25 different carriers, responsible for 70 per cent of passenger traffic. Ryanair, Aer Lingus parent, International Airlines Group, Lufthansa and Air France KLM, established the body in January 2016.

Norwegian Air Shuttle, whose long-haul arm is based in the Republic, Jet2, Tap Portugal and Volotea are among the companies which have since signed up.

Travel tax

Along with air-traffic control strikes, the organisation focuses on passenger tax, airport charges and security. While the Republic cut its travel tax to zero in 2014, boosting numbers to 32 million a year from 23 million, Irish people still have to pay this charge when they fly from other countries.

The UK, to where large numbers of Irish people fly, has the highest air passenger duty. The rates applying to most travellers from here range from £13 sterling per person for economy trips up to 2,000 miles, to £150, which would apply to long-haul business or first-class travel.

According to Mr Reynaert, the British government collects €3.6 billion of the total €5.6 billion paid by EU air passengers every year. Germany’s exchequer gets €1.1 billion from its version.

The airlines use “rational” arguments to try to convince individual governments to eliminate or cut the tax. “We talk about what Ireland has done. And Holland, they got rid of the tax and there was an immediate boom effect for the government,” Mr Reynaert said.

In Holland, the charge was meant to raise about €300 million a year, but it cost the economy €1.3 billion. To avoid paying it, one million people drove to the Netherlands rather than fly there. Air passenger numbers fell 25 per cent between 2010 and 2014 after the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition introduced the tax.

Airlines for Europe is watching how the Brexit talks unfold. Mr Reynaert pointed out that the gulf between Brussels and Westminster was so wide that it could be a while before both sides began discussing how to deal with individual industries such as aviation.

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