Sunday 25 August 2019

European skies face ‘meltdown’, warns O’Leary

Ryanair ceo Michael O'Leary. Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
Ryanair ceo Michael O'Leary. Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has urged the European Commission, as well as the UK and German governments, to urgently tackle issues including staff shortages impacting air traffic control services. He claimed the services are facing a “meltdown” this summer.

The carrier said a total of 117,000 flights were delayed last month, with more than 71,000 of those delays due to air traffic control (ATC) strikes and staff shortages, it claimed.

It added that weather delays accounted for the remainder of delays – a four-fold increase in the number notched up during May 2017.

Ryanair claimed that almost 60pc of the weather delays took place on Fridays and Saturdays, “which suggests that ATC providers are using adverse weather to cover their staff shortages”.

The airline cancelled more than 1,000 flights last month, which it said were almost all due to ATC staff shortages and strikes. EasyJet cancelled almost 1,000 flights last month.

Mr O’Leary, pictured, said another planned ATC strike in France this weekend will hit thousands of flights and holidaymakers.

“Many of these flights don’t even touch France, yet they will be disruptive because French ATC requires airlines to cancel overflights while they protect French domestic routes,” he said, adding that ATC staff shortages are particularly acute in the UK and Germany.

“These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on the UK and German governments, and the EU Commission, to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that ATC providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.”

Mr O’Leary claimed that unless urgent action was taken, “thousands of more flights and millions of passengers will be disrupted” over the summer, particularly during July and August.

Earlier this month, IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told a CAPA aviation conference in Sydney that air traffic control strikes pose a bigger risk to airlines in Europe than rising fuel costs. IAG owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, Level, as well as Spanish carriers Iberia and Vueling.

“From a European context, the thing most impacting is ATC strikes and the ongoing ATC environment, which is a mess,” he said. “It’s destroying traffic through Europe.”

A4E, a European airline industry organisation whose members include IAG and Ryanair, has previously estimated the economic cost of air traffic control strikes in the European Union was €13.4bn between 2010 and 2017.

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