ATM Modernization, Commercial

French ATC Strike Jeopardizes SES Implementation, Disrupts European Air Travel

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | June 24, 2014
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[Avionics Today June 24, 2014] The six-day strike by French Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), which entered its first day Tuesday, is projected to cause up to 14,000 hours of delays in European air travel, according to Air Traffic Management (ATM) firm Eurocontrol. Controllers in France's two biggest ATC unions, SNCTA and Unsa-ICNA, are striking in protest of budget cuts scheduled to occur between 2015 and 2019. 

Ryanair cancelled 210 flights to France as a result of the ATC strike. Photo, courtesy of Rynair.  

The strike could have an impact in the European Commission's (EC) plan to modernize ATM in Europe, known as the Single European Sky (SES) project. SES is the EC's plan to reduce air navigation costs in Europe by reorganizing the airspace into functional blocks rather than the current segmented model where each country controls air traffic based on national borders. 
“There are more borders in the skies over Europe than exist on land. And that comes at a great cost. In 2012, over 130 million hours of potentially productive time were wasted because of delays that could have been prevented with SES. It is indefensible that France’s air traffic controllers are now going on strike in order to perpetuate travel delays in Europe,” said International Air Transportation Association CEO Tony Tyler. 
IATA also cited estimates from Eurocontrol that the failure to implement SES resulted in "70 million minutes of delays for aircraft in 2012," which is the equivalent of 133 aircraft being grounded for an entire year. 
“We expect France to keep its commitment to deliver the SES. It must not buckle under the pressure of a privileged few controllers seeking to protect themselves from the ‘efficiency’ that every other industry and worker is challenged to achieve," added Tyler. 
Airlines already impacted by the strike include low cost carrier Ryanair, which cancelled 210 flights to and from France on Tuesday and EasyJet, which cancelled 110 flights. British Airways also cancelled 12 flights from Heathrow. Tyler called the timing of the strike "malicious" because of its impact on vacationers, business people and air cargo shipments. 

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