Airline bosses demand action from European Commission to tackle air-traffic control strikes

'On one day in May, only one in 50 flights using Palma airport in Mallorca was on time,' says Willie Walsh of IAG, British Airways’ parent company

Michael O'Leary chief executive of Ryanair on how to deal with the strikes

Europe’s two leading airline bosses have demanded an end to “lethargy and inaction” from the European Commission in tackling air-traffic control strikes in France and elsewhere.

Michael O’Leary of Ryanair and Willie Walsh of IAG, British Airways’ parent company, argued that by not adequately protecting flights over France, EU law is infringed.

The two chief executives were speaking in Brussels after a meeting with Europe’s transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc.

Mr O’Leary said: “This is disrupting one of the four fundamental freedoms of the European Union: freedom of movement.

“Nothing is going to impinge on the four freedoms, unless of course you are a French air-traffic controller, in which case you can f****** tear up the four freedoms, in particular the freedom to move, and block or close the skies over Europe.

“We know [striking] is a national pastime in France.”

Mr Walsh said air-traffic control strikes represent the biggest challenge to the aviation industry in Europe.

“They are destroying European air traffic and having a huge impact on consumers,” he said.

“By all means people are free to take industrial action. But it has to be balanced against the rights of the traveller.”

French Air Traffic Control strike grounds hundreds of flights affecting thousands of passengers

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.

In the first five months of 2018, 5,000 flights have been cancelled by air-traffic control strikes, affecting 784,000 passengers.

Some of these have been caused by knock-on delays. If an early morning flight takes minutes longer in each direction due to having to fly around closed airspace, delays build to the point where the last pair of flights to, say, Germany, where many airports have a noise curfew, has to be cancelled.

Mr O’Leary said: ”Most of you will suffer a delay this summer as a result of air-traffic control.”

Mr Walsh said that on one day in May, only one in 50 flights using Palma airport in Mallorca was on time.

The airlines are calling for airspace over France to be “top-sliced”, with overflights allowed to operate normally even if French air-traffic controllers are striking.

“Let’s split the airspace over France,” said Mr O’Leary. “So above 30,000 feet becomes European airspace, below is French or domestic airspace. That way you allow Eurocontrol to continue to do the overflights even if the French are on strike.

“We know it’s a national pastime in France. If you want to go on strike, go on strike. But now at least the French flights will get disrupted, and the ‘innocent’ flights operating from the UK, Germany, Spain or Italy will be allowed to operate.”

Spanish hoteliers say that the number of British visitors to Spain fell in May for the second successive month, largely due to flight cancellations.

Long delays and cancellations caused by strikes cost airlines millions of pounds. While compensation is not payable, passengers whose flights are severely disrupted are entitled to a duty of care: meals and, if necessary, accommodation at the airline’s expense until they can reach their destination.

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