Airlines take French air traffic strikes woes to EU

A member of ground crew at the base of moveable steps to an Easyjet aircraft

EasyJet joins Ryanair and IAG in claiming walkouts breach freedom of movement principle

EasyJet has become the third European airline to lodge a formal complaint with the European Commission over the disruption caused by air traffic control strikes in France.

The airline joins Ryanair and Anglo-Spanish giant IAG - which owns British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling - in claiming the strikes breached one of the "four freedoms" of the EU - that of freedom of movement.

EasyJet reports that it has had to cancel more than 2,600 flights between the beginning of April and the end of June this year - at an average of 29 per day - compared to 314 over the same period in 2017.

Bad weather contributed to delays, the airline said, with unusual storm activity in that period a contributory factor, but it insisted that air traffic control strikes were a major cause of unwarranted travel problems.

The number of cancellations for those three months alone, which the airline says has cost €25million, are higher than the total for the whole of 2017.

EasyJet's director general Johan Lundgren said repeated strikes by controllers in France were "significantly impacting its operational performance and was pushing up costs".

He said: “Disruption this year so far has been equivalent to all of 2017, which has been challenging, and we estimate this will not go away.”

The three airlines say repeated strikes by air traffic controllers have led to more than 750,000 passengers having flights cancelled since the start of the year.

"It's been going on for years and it's no longer acceptable," said François Bacchetta, director of Easyjet France. "We do not question the right to strike, but we ask France to take the necessary measures to ensure better predictability of disruptions, which would give us time to reorganise our flights and ensure continuity of service, which is an obligation."

Most passengers hit by delays and cancellations due to the French strikes are not flying to or from France but travelling on routes which pass through the country's air space.

French air traffic control handles 20% of all European flights, and is responsible for 30% of delays. To make matters worse, delays more than doubled in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2017, which was regarded as a poor year for punctuality, according to Eurocontrol figures. The average delay in 2017 was 20 minutes, and totalled 783 hours lost each day.

Between 2004 and 2016, French air traffic controllers were on strike for 254 days. In comparison, air traffic controllers in Greece, the country with the second-highest number of strikes over the same period, lost, 46 days to stoppages.
But the European Commission defended workers' "fundamental right" to go on strike and hoped "non-binding and non-legislative" guidelines would solve the problem.
"The commission is not questioning the right to strike, which is a fundamental right of workers," a spokesman said.

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