International Airlines Group (IAG) and Ryanair are working together to submit a complaint to the European Commission in regards to air traffic control (ATC) strikes, saying they “represent the biggest challenge for our industry”.

According to Airlines for Europe (A4E), there have been 24 air traffic control strike days in Europe so far in 2018, causing 5,000 flight cancellations and thousands more delays.

There has also been a four-fold increase in flight delays of more than 15 minutes since May 2017, rising from 14,000 to 56,000. Air traffic management organisation Eurocontrol says 39,000 of those were a direct result of ATC strikes.

The European Commission says there have been around 357 ATC strikes in Europe since 2005, 254 of which occurred in France.

A4E claims these ATC strikes have a “costly” effect on customers and European economies, saying the walk-outs prevent the movement of people and goods across the continent. PWC research shows the cost of strikes between 2010 and 2017 was around €13.4 billion.

The complaint also raises concern about the environmental impact of strikes; it says airlines are forced to divert flights to avoid closed air space, resulting in higher CO2 emissions.

Echoing comments he made at the GTMC Overseas Conference earlier this month, Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG, said: “IAG and Ryanair are planning to submit a complaint to the European Commission as ATC strikes represent the biggest challenge for our industry. They are destroying European air traffic and having a huge impact on consumers. It’s a really frustrating cause of disruption that affects all airlines but in particular has a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.

“Continuous strikes by ATC staff in Marseille have a disproportionate impact on those airlines flying from Barcelona because they control flights over most of the Mediterranean air space. For Veuling this means that 50 per cent of its flights are affected. The EU must act now to protect the rights of the consumers and prevent long-term damage to European economies.”

Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, added: “These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on the governments and the EU Commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that ATC providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.

“Europe’s ATC providers are approaching the point of meltdown, with hundreds of flights being cancelled daily either because of ATC strikes or because Europe’s ATC don’t have enough staff.

“The situation is particularly acute at weekends where British and German ATC providers are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as ‘capacity restrictions’ when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.

“Urgent action must now be taken by the UK and German governments, and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands more flights and millions of passengers will be disrupted, particularly in the peak months of July and August, unless this ATC staffing crisis is addressed.”

A4E has proposed a mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for employees planning to strike and protection of overflights so long as it doesn’t negatively affect local services, as well as a guarantee of minimum services to be provided.

Thomas Reynaert, managing director of A4E, commented: “We have been working constructively and quite intensely over the last several months with French government officials and parliamentarians to establish a stable and long-term solution to these distributions. In this context, we urge the French government to take decisive action to resolve this issue on behalf of all our passengers, ahead of this summer’s busy travel season.”

The news comes as Spanish ATC staff at several airports have threatened strike action if their demands for more favourable rotas are not met.

A4E has also started an online petition for consumers to urge swift action on the ATC situation.

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