by Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, A4E
In 2016 – the year A4E was founded, European travelers were subjected to an astounding 41 days of strike at the hands of Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) – the majority of these strikes occurring in France. We thought it couldn’t get any worse than 2016. I’m afraid, we were wrong.
This year is shaping up to be one of the worst years ever for Air Traffic Control (ATC) strikes in Europe. A4E member airlines have been forced to cancel more than 6,000 flights resulting from 29 strike days in just the first half of this year. That’s already more days than we had total in 2017 (25 days). France, historically the source of some 70 per cent of all ATC strikes across Europe – has witnessed a staggering 300 per cent increase in ATC strike activity compared to last year. Just last month, the French Senate (*) confirmed that France alone is responsible for 33 per cent of flight delays in Europe.
Sadly, millions of travelers have been affected by these cancellations and related delays. On some days, one Air Control Center (ACC) in particular – Marseille – was responsible for the majority of flight cancellations to and from key tourism destinations in Spain this year.
Families deserve to go on their summer holidays without the fear of ATC strike disruptions ruining their vacations.
It should come as no surprise, then, that just this week leading EU Tourism Associations, including tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, theme parks, cruise lines and others announced they are joining A4E’s efforts to minimize ATC strike disruptions, which are damaging tourism supply chains and causing unnecessary misery for their guests.
Let’s be clear: It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected by these strikes, but also travelers on routes that overfly France.
When Greece and Italy have ATC strikes, overflights continue as normal in the upper (en-route) airspace. Flights overflying the country affected by industrial action must be protected while this should not come at the expense of flights to and from the country affected. In addition, a 72h advance notification of participation in industrial action, at individual employee level, should be foreseen so to improve the predictability of the level of disruption.
Without disputing workers’ fundamental right to strike – we need to protect our passengers and Europe’s tourism-dependent economies. ALL airlines and their passengers are affected – tourism, especially. According to a recent study (**), since 2010, ATC strikes have cost Europe’s economies an estimated 13.4 billion euros. Without immediate action, this figure will only continue to grow, and more damage will be done.
Air travel is essential to the free movement of citizens and goods in Europe. It is a cornerstone of the European single market and it needs to be safeguarded and promoted. You can count on us to continue to do the promoting. It’s now up to policymakers to take care of the rest.
Two-and-half years ago we founded A4E to be the voice of Europe’s leading airlines. To affect policy change that benefits consumers, especially weary travelers who have had to contend with this year’s spring of discontent. Let’s not let the spring disruptions carry over into peak tourism season this summer. Let’s remind policymakers, that European travelers also have rights. And finally, let’s not forget the goods and services that also get left behind, further damaging Europe’s industries and economies. That’s why we are demanding change, today!
(*) French Senate (equivalent to Treasury select committee) report 13 June 2018 -commission des finances du Sénat available at: http://www.senat.fr/rap/r17-568/r17-5681.pdf).
(**) *“Economic Impact of Air Traffic Control Strikes in Europe”, PriceWaterhouseCooper for A4E, Brussels, 2016