Saturday 27 December 2014

French air traffic control strike threatens travel chaos

Passengers must await 11th hour decision from France over possible mass flight cancellations

Published 23/06/2014 | 09:52

An air traffic controllers' strike will take place this week.

Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers will face widespread chaos and uncertainty over their travel plans this week as a six-day French air traffic control strike is due to go ahead.

Airlines have warned that the action is likely to have a “severe” impact on travel to and from France but could also affect many other services passing over the country.

With just over 24 hours to go until the strike was due to begin, none of the airlines could tell passengers for certain whether or not they will be affected because the French authorities still had not decided how many flights they will order them to cancel.

EasyJet, the second biggest airline in France operating from 14 airports in the country, said it expected to have to cancel around half of its services in and out of France.

But it added that up to 70 per cent of the 1,400 flights a day it operates across Europe and beyond pass through French airspace and could also be disrupted or delayed.

Ryanair said although it was drawing up plans, it was unable to make final decisions about routes until after a meeting of the French equivalent of the Civil Aviation Authority due to take place this morning.

A Ryanair spokesman said: "We are assessing the situation and are not yet certain of the level of disruption expected, but will advise our customers once we have further information.”

Last October, due to a similar strike, Ryanair had to cancel 70 flights to and from France.

Members of the two biggest air traffic controllers’ unions in France have voted for a six-day strike from Tuesday in protest at budget cuts.

The action has been timed ahead of a deadline on June 30 for France to present its five-year budget plans for aviation to Brussels.

It is in preparation for the European “single sky” plan to reduce navigation costs by organising airspace by traffic flows rather than national borders.

But the two unions claim it will lead to a “forced low-cost” ethos in air traffic.

British Airways, which operates 30 return flights a day between Britain and France, hopes to switch to larger aircraft on some routes to reduce any backlog.

But it said it could not finalise plans until the number of cancellations ordered by France’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC) was clear.

“The level of disruption is likely to fluctuate in different parts of France at different parts of each day,” it explained.

“Unfortunately this industrial action is also highly likely to lead to delays on other short-haul services which have to overfly France.”

A spokeswoman for easyJet said: “EasyJet is disappointed at this unnecessary strike action which has the potential to cause considerable disruption and cancellations for passengers and airlines across Europe.

“Despite the fact that this disruption is beyond EasyJet’s control we will do everything possible to minimise the inconvenience to our customers.

“As the scale of the disruption becomes clearer we will proactivelyprovide advice for our passengers through our website, text messages and flight tracker tool.”

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