Flight cancellations to continue through April due to French strikes, says Ryanair boss

Airlines demand action on ‘overflights’ during walkouts by air-traffic controllers in France

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 29 March 2023 12:06 BST
Going south? Ryanair flights from its main base at London Stansted are subject to delays and cancellations due to striking French air-traffic controllers
Going south? Ryanair flights from its main base at London Stansted are subject to delays and cancellations due to striking French air-traffic controllers (Simon Calder)

Passengers flying on routes over France face disruption throughout April, Michael O’Leary has warned.

The chief executive of Ryanair Group said his airline had received a “Notam” – an aviation instruction – from the French aviation authority to cut 60 flights on Thursday (30 March) because of a strike by air-traffic control (ATC) staff.

Mr O’Leary told the Airlines for Europe conference in Brussels: “We got a Notam last night from French ATC asking us to cancel 60 flights tomorrow with less than 48 hours’ notice.

“And then also the wonderful news that the daily French ATC strikes will continue for the month of April. Daily.

“We are all collectively facing daily cancellations of flights that aren’t even operating to and from France, while the French protect their domestic flights.”

He said that while there were three days of French air traffic control strikes in the first three months of 2022, in the corresponding spell this year “we have had 23 and still counting”.

Last weekend Ryanair was “forced to cancel 230 flights” which hit 41,000 passengers. More than 2,000 flights were delayed, Mr O’Leary said.

Ryanair has launched a petition urging Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, to allow flights to operate normally over France even when the nation’s air-traffic controllers are on strike.

The airline is urging the commission to allow staff in other nations “to manage flights over France while French ATC are on strike”.

When flights are cancelled, European air passengers’ rights rules require the airline involved to provide hotels, meals and alternative flights.

Mr O’Leary said the regulations are indirectly costing European passengers €5bn (£4.4bn) annually by increasing airlines’ costs – and that carriers are unable to claim for the financial damage because French air-traffic control providers are legally exempt.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, echoed his rival’s concern about the French strikes, saying: “We’re very badly hit.

“It’s impossible sometimes for people to comprehend when they go from point A to point B and there’s something happening at point C that makes the flight cancelled.

“The issue is not only the actual flight, but because it also has a ripple effect across the whole of the network that makes it even more impossible for someone to understand why there is a delay.

“It’s difficult to see when it’s going to end.”

Mr Lundgren also called for the “Single European Sky” concept to be implemented rapidly.

The European Commission says this initiative is aimed at “de-fragmenting the European airspace, reducing delays, increasing safety standards and flight efficiency to reduce the aviation environmental footprint”.

But it has been under discussion for two decades, with very little progress.

The easyJet CEO said air-traffic control reform would save 19 per cent of emissions on flights between Paris and Milan, adding there was “no excuse” for further delays on the project.

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