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French Air Traffic Controllers Pick Worst Conceivable Time to Strike Again

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Despite the stresses on European aviation already caused by the recent attacks on Brussels Airport, and the associated travel disruptions as airlines work to find alternative routes to fly passengers to, from, and within Europe, the French Air Traffic Controllers Unions have announced a new strike beginning tomorrow.

Given concerns expressed by Europe’s airports over security measures required to defend all public spaces in Europe, creating situations which might result in cancelled flights and delays, with passengers crowding at terminals to wait on arrangements, could not be more poorly timed.

Once again, the Airlines for Europe (A4E) airline association has condemned the decision by French ATC, citing the overall impact to flights throughout Europe of the most recent strikes at the beginning of the Easter holidays.

The last two-day strike, the airline association states, caused over 1,000 flight cancellations, resulted in cumulative 500,000 minutes (8,333 hours or 347 days) of flight delays, and affected more than 1 million travellers.

“Another French air traffic controller (ATC) strike will cause further chaos to the travel plans of millions of European travellers for at least 36 hours from tomorrow evening. This will be the 43rd strike day in France since 2009 and it will see hundreds of flights being cancelled creating disruption and extensive delays across the continent,” A4E states.

“Repeated and disproportionate industrial action by French ATC unions is seriously impacting the travel plans of thousands of passengers during Easter. It is unacceptable that airlines and their customers can be repeatedly punished by these unjustified strikes. We call on the European Commission to act immediately to defend consumers”, said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director of A4E.

A4E airline members are already preparing for the announced strikes, and expect significant disruptions.

“We are currently working on an immediate action plan to minimise strike effects on both local traffic and overflights. But we also need the European Commission to remain at the helm of implementing a European Aviation Strategy without disruptions and to the benefit of travellers. This must be a priority,” Reynaert added.

“Needless to say A4E accepts that the right to strike is a fundamental right, but one million or more passengers cannot have their travel plans spoiled again by this dispute,” said Reynaert.

A4E has asked the EU Commission and European Parliament to intercede, creating rules which can ensure a reliable and efficient airspace both through policy changes and through the implementation of new ATM technology, which, the association states can be funded through SESAR in compliance with the Single European Sky framework.


 

While I support the notion that workers must have sustainable working conditions, and that ATC work is highly stressful, requiring work conditions and compensation commensurate with this great responsibility, I have to say French ATC is now acting irresponsibly.

Considering the challenges Europe’s aviation infrastructure is currently grappling with the decision to strike again now is frankly myopic, self-centred, and not in keeping with the spirit of solidarity which keeps aviation strong.

If there was ever a time for the EU Council to take decisive action on this matter: this is it!

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