The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has found what it calls ‘troubling’ figures on delays caused by the air traffic control (ATC) staff shortages and strikes affecting much of Europe this summer.

The data shows that delays caused by ATC have more than doubled since 2017 to 47,000 minutes per day. The average delay per flight was 20 minutes in July, while the worst was 337 minutes.

Delays have been blamed on staff shortages, capacity shortage, the weather and strikes.

IATA says proper investment and planning from governments and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) can ease delays for airlines and their passengers, but claims ANSPs are more concerned with securing profits than investing in their businesses.

The research claims that the two largest providers have either under-invested in staff or use “out-dated employment practices which don’t deploy staff when and where they’re most needed”.

IATA also says the major ANSPs have failed to invest in modern technology intended to increase capacity.

In response to continuing delays, which IATA says could grow worse if action is not taken, is urging ANSPs to follow a four-point plan, including:

  • Modernising the infrastructure and implementing the Single European Sky ATM Research that airlines are already paying for.
  • Reforming work practices so staff are deployed when and where they’re required, including recruiting additional staff where needed.
  • Empowering the European network manager to plan and configure the network to meet the demands of air travellers.
  • Strengthening the Performance and Charging Scheme so ANSPs that don’t deliver agreed capacity are subject to ‘meaningful’ penalties.

The data comes after IAG, Ryanair and Easyjet launched legal complaints to the European Commission regarding ATC delays, which are beginning to hit airline profit margins. IAG boss Willie Walsh told attendees at the GTMC Overseas Conference that ATC strikes pose ‘the biggest threat’ to the airline industry.

Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of IATA, commented: “We are in the summer season in Europe. Travellers want to get to their holidays on time. And too many will be disappointed because of air traffic delays. We should be making progress, but delays are double those of last year. There is no quick fix for this year. But the needed solutions are well-known. With the correct investment and planning by governments and ANSPs we can, and must, make next year better.

“The impact of ATC delays ripple throughout the economy. At a time when Europe’s competitiveness urgently needs to be improved, increasing ATM delays is totally unacceptable. Travellers are fed up. Change must start now.”

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