IAG, Ryanair, easyJet & Wizz Air submit French ATC strikes complaint to European Commission

International Airlines  Group (IAG), Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air have submitted complaints to the  European Commission against France claiming its air traffic controllers’ strikes restrict the fundamental principle of freedom of movement within the EU.

European ATC Strikes

The airlines said they are not questioning the right to strike but believe France is breaking EU law by not enabling flights over the country during strikes. Passengers on overflights are being denied their fundamental freedom to travel between member states not  affected by strike action.
So far this year, French  ATC strikes have increased by 300 per cent versus 2017. Last month, the French  Senate confirmed that France alone is responsible for 33 per cent of flight delays  in Europe. The Senate states also that the right to strike has to be balanced  against the obligation to provide public service. (*).
Willie Walsh, IAG’s chief  executive, said: “The right to strike needs to be balanced against freedom of  movement. It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected during French ATC strikes. Passengers on routes that overfly France, especially  the large airspace that covers Marseille and the Mediterranean, are also  subject to delays and massive disruptions. This affects all airlines but has a  significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.
”The complaints state that there is a legal precedent to this case. In 1997, the Spanish complained to the European Commission after they suffered for many years when French farmers prevented  their fruit and vegetable exports into the EU. The European Court ruled against France as the French authorities didn’t address the farmers’ actions and failed  to ensure the free movement of goods.”
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s  chief executive, said: “Europe’s ATC providers are reaching the point of  meltdown with hundreds of flights being cancelled and delayed daily either  because of ATC strikes or because Europe’s ATC don’t have enough staff. When Greece and Italy have ATC strikes, overflights continue as normal. Why won’t  France do the same?
“ATC providers (especially in Germany and the UK) are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the  truth is they are not rostering enough air traffic controllers to cater for the  number of flights that are scheduled to operate. These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on Europe’s 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.”
Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s  chief executive, said: “We fully respect the right to strike and have been in  constructive dialogue with the EU and the French government to address the issue of ATC strikes. Unfortunately, our passengers have felt little progress  so far, which is why we felt it is necessary to take this next step –  particularly given the sustained industrial action this year which has totalled  29 days to date.”
József Váradi, Wizz Air’s chief executive, said: “The failure of French air traffic control  authorities to ensure a continued and adequate service has already caused  massive disruption to the travel plans of thousands of passengers across Europe,  with airlines left to pick up the pieces. Addressing this issue must be a  priority for the European authorities to ensure European citizens and  businesses are no longer held hostage to national industrial relations issues.”
The airline chiefs cite Eurocontrol figures indicating that more than 16,000 flights had been delayed by June this year due to ATC strikes,  affecting more than two million passengers.
Last summer, the European  Commission said that since 2005 there have been around 357 ATC strikes in Europe. “That’s the equivalent of roughly one month per year when the EU skies  are disrupted,” they claim.