Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, has warned that a group of 20 air traffic controllers in Marseille, France, pose the “biggest challenge this year and next” to the industry, writes Matthew Parsons in Dublin.
Strikes in May caused the cancellations of 1,000 flights in May, with more set to be affected this month, he warned.
Speaking at the start of the GTMC Conference at the Powerscourt Hotel in Dublin, he told delegates: “We are seeing continuous strikes in the Marseille region, which impacts disproportionatey on those airlines flying out of Barcelona because of the airspace that’s covered by Marseille, which includes most of the Mediterranean. These strikes are causing a huge hassle for airlines and our customers.
“This is an issue that Michael O’Leary and I will be addressing when we meet with the European Commission in Brussels the week after next, and we need as an industry to work together and make sure politicians, particularly in Europe, understand the chaos that is being caused by a small group of individuals.
"It’s estimated there are 20 people employed by Marseille’s air traffic control that are leading these strikes. And it’s not for salary, or working conditions; it’s effectively a political statement about the changes that are being made in France.
“We’ve got to see this issue resolved, or it’s going to have a really negative impact on flying across Europe in the years ahead.”
Walsh also touched upon its overall infrastructure as one of the biggest challenges for the industry over the next 10 years. “Unless we get to grips with air traffic control, we’re facing a real bottleneck. People talk about infrastructure as restricting growth, and we know about the problems with airports, but less is understood is about air traffic control. We’ve got to streamline air traffic control if we want to be able to meet the growing demand from customers in Europe."
Officially opening the conference before Walsh began his keynote speech, GTMC chairman Paul Allan outlined the theme of “Mind the gap” for the two-day event, stating many hot topics such as NDC, Brexit and HS2 were ongoing. “There are so many questions left hanging in the gap. They never seem to be answered. But today we’re going to try and answer them.”
However, following Walsh’s comments, some events such as air traffic control strikes may take a while to solve, despite the GTMC’s best attempts.