Wednesday 24 January 2018

French air traffic control strike to cause havoc across Europe

French unions have voted to strike in the midst of the summer getaway, in a move which is set to bring misery to millions

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

France's two biggest air traffic controllers' unions have voted to go on strike from Tuesday in an announcement which will infuriate millions of holidaymakers.

Tourism officials estimate that 17.1 million Britons travel to France every year – many of the during the summer months. France attracts more foreign tourists than any other country in the world.

The six-day strike called by SNCTA and Unsa-ICNA comes amid an ongoing rail protest that is the biggest industrial action in years.

Air traffic controllers warned of "a heavy disruption" of flights from June 24 to 29. A minimum service of 50 per cent of scheduled flights will be maintained, according to France Info – but the controllers say they expect many cancellations.

The European members of the Air Traffic Controllers' Association were meeting on Friday to work out whether all flights across French airspace would be affected, or just ones landing in France.

ABTA, the British travel association, said that two thirds of all British journeys to France were made by ferry or Eurostar.

And airlines said they were working on contingency plans.

EasyJet, which operates flights to and from 13 airports in France, said it was "disappointed at this unnecessary strike action which has the potential to cause considerable disruption and cancellations for passengers and airlines across Europe."

The airline said it would provide updated advice "as the scale of the disruption becomes clearer."

A spokesman for Ryanair, which flies to 30 airports in France, 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.”

The strike, in the midst of the peak tourist season, follows a 10-day rail protest that has affected services to foreign countries as well as domestic travel.

Last week Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, expressed his frustration at the ongoing rail strike.

"This strike is irresponsible in the country's current state, on a day of exams. It's time to stop this strike," he told France Info radio. Insisting the government would push ahead with the reform, he said he was "no strike-breaker" and would not force unions to end the strike, which he said they had a constitutional right to carry out.

More than 60 per cent of the 4,000 air traffic controllers voted late on Thursday for the strike, which comes ahead of a June 30 deadline for France to present its budget plans for the sector over five years to Brussels.

The strikers are protesting against planned cuts between 2015 and 2019 that they say will threaten the "necessary performance and modernisation needed to ensure an efficient air navigation service in France." The cuts form part of a European Commission plan, called Single Sky Europe, to reduce air navigation costs by organising airspace into functional blocks, according to traffic flows rather than national borders.

The strikers argue that the move will lead to the liberalisation and a "forced low-cost" ethos in air traffic.

The French unions ordered strikes in June last year too – forcing the cancellation of 50 per cent of flights.

And in January a similar strike by unions saw 20 per cent of short and medium-haul flights cancelled, principally in the three Parisian airports – Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais. The SNCTA called off that strike after four days, when they received written assurances from the transport ministry.

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