Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary warns passengers of summer air traffic control strikes

But airline chief thinks airports are ready for busy season

Michael O'Leary has urged the European Commission to take action. Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

John Mulligan

RYANAIR boss Michael O’Leary has warned that air traffic control strikes remain the primary threat to passengers’ holiday plans across Europe this summer.

Speaking at an aviation event in Brussels on Wednesday morning, Mr O’Leary also predicted that passengers won’t see the kind of chaos that occurred at airports across Europe last year as they struggled to manage a surge in air travel following the pandemic.

This week, Dublin Airport said it has introduced a number of new measures and improvements to facilities in time for this summer that are designed to make the country’s biggest gateway cleaner, more efficient and more comfortable for passengers.

“I think summer 2023 will be materially better at the airports – security, the airlines, the handling agents are much better staffed and prepped for the summer,” said Mr O’Leary during a press conference at the Airlines for Europe summit.

“However, that doesn’t mean that summer isn’t going to be very difficult,” he added. “Air traffic control [ATC] strikes are going to be infinitely worse. There’s capacity restrictions on European ATC systems because of the military activity over Ukraine… and all of the Asian traffic is being funnelled down across German and southern eastern European airspace.”

“So, air traffic control is going to be materially worse,” he predicted.

A major Nato military exercise in June in Germany will also severely impact airspace availability.

Mr O’Leary has regularly criticised the European Commission for not tackling the problems caused to carriers by ATC strikes and delays. Those strikes can mean that aircraft traversing a country such as France but not landing there, are also subject to delays. The Ryanair boss wants such overflights to be insulated from the impact of strikes.

“I think we have to keep going until we get change,” he said. “We have to keep raising these issues, we have to keep exposing the fact that this Commission has delivered nothing. Eventually you’ll embarrass them into taking some action. Air traffic control is going to be so bad for the next number of weeks and months that we might finally prod Ursula von der Leyen… into doing something.”

Ryanair and other European airlines have for years been urging the European Commission to push ahead with its Single European Skies project designed to streamline air traffic control services.

Flight delays cost the industry billions of euros every year.

Apart from a small number of notable exceptions - Ireland's Irish Aviation Authority and the UK's Nats have worked closely together to achieve operational and cost efficiencies, for example – national air navigation service providers have typically been siloed. They don't even use the same ATC computer systems, with the lack of interoperability a major hurdle to achieving change.

Creating the Single European Sky, where the fragmented European ATC network is transformed into so-called Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) that transcend national borders, remains just a goal.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren told the Airlines for Europe conference that there is “a sense of good demand” amongst consumers for travel this summer.