Chaos across Europe as French air traffic controllers ground flights

Ryanair forced to cancel 250 flights, including seven scheduled to depart from Dublin

Passengers wait for their flight at Nice International airport yesterday.

Passengers wait for their flight at Nice International airport yesterday.


The 48-hour strike by French air traffic controllers that grounded more than 3,000 flights across Europe since Tuesday morning ended last night but further disruption is likely today with limited work-to-rules by controllers in other countries, including Portugal and Italy.

More than 1,500 flights into and out of dozens of French cities were cancelled for a second consecutive day yesterday as the country’s air traffic controllers stopped work in protest at planned changes to airspace oversight across the EU. The French aviation authority said the stoppage had “exceptional” backing with almost 100 per cent of controllers taking part.

Ryanair, which has called for the right of air traffic controllers to strike to be revoked, was forced to cancel 250 flights, including seven scheduled to depart from Dublin.

Apply for a refund
Aer Lingus cancelled four flights to and from France yesterday. Both airlines said affected passengers would either be carried on the next available flight or apply for a refund.

Other airlines were similarly affected. EasyJet was forced to ground 128 flights, while Air France and Lufthansa were also badly affected as were many long-haul services to the US, the Middle East and Asia. The strike also affected passengers flying to or from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Slovakia.

Broad campaign
It is the first French air traffic controllers protest since 2010 when many joined a campaign against changes in French pension rules. The origins of the current dispute are EU-wide plans to centralise air flight controls in a effort to lower charges and shorten flight routes.

The European Commission wants to stop member states monitoring their own skies and says it could triple airspace capacity, cut costs and reduce delays. It has estimated that air traffic control inefficiencies add 42km to the average flight which leads to aircraft burning more fuel and generating more emissions.

The European Transport Workers Federation, which is behind the strikes, disputes this and has said the aim of the dispute was to “stop a never-ending process of liberalisation, deregulation and cost-cutting in the air traffic management industry”. It claimed that the European Commission’s so-called SES2+ proposals would “jeopardise safety and the number and quality of jobs”.

“This is wrong,” Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association said yesterday and he described the strike as a “misguided attempt to preventing efficiencies that are being brought about for a single European sky”.

French air traffic controllers will return to work today but passengers are likely to face some delays across Europe as industrial action by air traffic controllers in other countries continues. Today’s action is likely to be limited to work-to-rules and some picketing and it is not thought the disruption will be as extensive as it was earlier in the week.