Thousands endure flight chaos as controllers strike
FLIGHTS are expected to be disrupted across Europe today as air traffic controllers in 11 countries take industrial action in protest against European Union plans to wrest control of the skies from individual states and create a single European airspace.
EU officials say that the overhaul will reduce flight times and slash costs by up to €5bn (£4bn) a year – savings they say would be passed on to the consumer. But unions warn that the plans could jeopardise passenger safety and threaten jobs in the aviation industry.
A three-day strike began in France yesterday as the European Commission announced legislation to revive the Single European Sky (SES) project first mooted more than a decade ago to create an integrated air space above the continent.
The proposed new legislation would give Brussels new powers to set standards for air traffic control bodies and penalise EU members for not moving swiftly enough to implement the SES.
Ryanair grounded 200 flights to and from France yesterday, while hundreds of other flights were delayed. It has grounded 244 flights today from various hubs around Europe, while Aer Lingus has also scrapped four flights to France from Dublin and Cork.
Air France also said it was cancelling an unspecified number of short- and medium-haul flights.
Passengers face the possibility of further disruption with Hungarian air traffic controllers likely to join the strike.
Other industrial action, including working to rule, is due in nine other member states including holiday hubs in Italy and Portugal.
Ryanair has called on French authorities to intervene to end further disruption, saying the right of air traffic controllers to strike should be revoked.
"It is unacceptable that the skies over Europe are repeatedly closed or flights are delayed by the unjustified strike action of tiny numbers of air traffic controllers," said Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely.
"These public servants are among the most overpaid and protected in Europe and yet they repeatedly opt for the strike weapon as a first, rather than a last resort."
The protest is the first since 2010, when some flight controllers joined a campaign against changes in French pension rules.
"Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 10 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky," said Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner. "We cannot afford to continue."
The EU argues that a fragmented air space managed by 60 different control centres means planes are not taking the most direct routes, adding an average of 42km (26 miles) to each flight. (© Independent News Service)