Strike threatens flights

Air traffic controllers dispute to hit European flights

Industrial action by air traffic controllers (ATC) in several European countries, starting tomorrow and running until 31 January, is set to cause flight delays and cancellations.

The strike, in protest to EU Single Sky proposals, has been called by trade body ATCEUC, which represents more than 14,000 ATCs in Europe

The first stage of the European-wide strike was to have been launched on Monday by French air traffic controllers. But sources claim the SNCTA union there has “provisionally” withdrawn its call for a five-day walkout. However, two other French unions are sticking to the planned actions.

It is unclear whether the announced strike action in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, will now go forward.

The protests of the air traffic controllers are directed against EU plans to liberalise and deregulate European airspace. Twenty-eight national air traffic control services currently monitor the 650 sectors of European airspace.

The EU Commission wants to strengthen Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control establishment in Brussels, by centralising work there and give the commission more powers for the further implementation of reforms.

The EU Commission has provided figures showing that aircraft often cannot take the direct route because of the fragmentation of the airspace being monitored. This means each flight is on average 42 kilometres longer than necessary, meaning more time, more fuel consumption and greater environmental impact. The EU calculates this incurs approximately €5 billion in additional costs, which must be paid by airlines and passengers. The reforms are therefore meant to push down prices; providers should reduce charges and develop even more traffic.

Trade unions have warned of looming security and capacity problems. They believe the basis of the EU’s calculations is wrong, and fear that almost 10,000 jobs could be lost in Europe.

A planned European-wide day of action by air traffic controllers in October last year, was called off immediately after receiving a fresh offer of talks from the commission.

Hopes remain that the current action may be similarly rescinded.