Irish low-cost airline Ryanair is trying to get one million people to sign a petition to force the European Commission to take action against France and the countless strikes at air traffic control (ATC). The airline is fed up with the strikes, which are seriously disrupting air travel across Europe. Even today, French ATC is on strike to protest the pension reforms that have been imposed by President Macron. Ryanair has had enough of continuous French ATC strikes.
Ryanair’s CEO Eddie Wilson said at a media conference in Brussels that this year, French ATC strikes have disrupted air travel for thirteen days in the last eight weeks. Another four have been announced for this week, including the one today. “In thirteen days of ATC strikes, over a million of our passengers have been affected unnecessarily, 300 Ryanair flights had to be canceled and another 6.000 suffered delays, much to the frustration of our customers.”
The problem is that the French strike affects overflying traffic, while domestic flights are protected and can continue. “Overflights are allowed in many other countries, but not in France. So while we are bearing the consequences of the strike in Dublin, Berlin, Madrid, or wherever, French flights are protected. That’s outrageous and the European Commission needs to do something about it,” said Wilson.
Eighty percent of the flights that are affected by strikes are flights crossing France. Hit the hardest in the past eight weeks were those to Spain, with 1.750 flights and 320.000 passengers. The UK is next with 700 flights and 120.000 passengers, with Italy in third place with 600 flights and 115.000 affected customers. When not canceled, flights had to make long detours to circumvent French airspace instead of taking the direct and shorter route. This has cost 1.1 million kilograms in extra fuel and resulted in 4.000 tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions.
“If they are on strike in France over pension reforms, why should that affect people in Germany, Italy or Spain? They have the right to strike, but not the right to needlessly disrupt people’s business or holidays. This denies people the freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms within the European Union, but the Commission has done nothing about this. If this was happening at ports or roads, it would be sorted out straight away,” Wilson said. Punctuality in Europe already suffered in 2022 because of airline, airport, and ATC disruptions.
What annoys Ryanair the most is that the French way of striking is different from the rest of Europe. “The Spanish, Italians, and Greek agreed that when their ATC goes on strike, they allow overflying traffic to continue. That happened in Greece last Friday and it can be done in France too. We need Eurocontrol to manage ATC when the French go on strike. It is important that France mandates overflights so Eurocontrol can take over, and a mandate for arbitration instead of going on strike.” Director of Operations Neal McMahon said that in September, only nine ATC staff went on strike but caused chaos across the European system.
Instead of having lobby organization Airlines 4 Europe running a campaign, Ryanair calls upon the flying public to protest against the problem, although Wilson said that other airlines are welcome to join. “easyJet is affected, all the Spanish airlines flying North are affected.” Once one million people have signed the “Keep EU skies open’-petition, Ryanair intends to present the signatures to Ursula von der Leyen, Chair of the European Commission.
“We have been calling on Von der Leyen for many months now but nothing has happened. Now we are facing a summer of chaos just because of a local dispute about the retirement age. I would love to bring the French air traffic controllers of President Von der Leyen to the middle of an airport where there are 20.000 people, sitting around on the floors because they can’t take off from a country unrelated to what is happening in France.”
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News and until July 1 2023 in a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.