Featured image: Mathieu Marquer from Paris/CC BY-SA 2.0

6/11/2013: French Air Traffic Control Strike Begins

DALLAS – Today, in 2013, French Air Traffic Controllers commenced a three-day strike to protest against plans to create a single European airspace.

Plans for the Single European Sky (SES) project can be traced back to 2000. The European Commission gained the consent of all EU Transport Ministers to create a single European sky.

The state-of-the-art ATC tower at Paris CDG. Photo: Avi1111, Dr. Avishai Teicher, CC BY-SA 4.0

A Centralized ATC System

This would create a centralized air-traffic control system instead of each country being allowed to monitor its own skies. They claimed that inefficiencies in how the region’s air traffic was managed added 42km (26 miles) to flights. The SES could, in theory, triple Europe’s airspace capacity, cut costs, and reduce delays.

Speaking at the time, Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told the European Parliament, “The time has come for more decisive action. If we leave things as they are, we will be confronted with heavy congestion and chaos in our airspace.”

However, the French ATC claimed that the project would affect their working conditions and public safety. The main union that controls French ATC, the USAC-CGT, said that plans for the SES are “a direct attack on the public service nature of this sector” and a move towards privatization.

easyJet was forced to cancel over 250 flights. Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways

Safety Fears

The strike was backed by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF). ETF Political Secretary Francois Ballestero said that the ATC industry had endured a “never-ending process of liberalization, deregulation, and cost-cutting.”

He said controllers were “suffering from a performance scheme dominated by a never-ending cost reduction and in which safety is not considered to be the first priority.”

Airports across France were affected, including Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Paris Orly (ORY), Lyon (LYS), Nice (NCE), Marseille (MRS), Toulouse (TLS), and Bordeaux (BOD). Both Ryanair (FR) and easyJet (U2) were forced to cancel over 250 flights each during the disruption.

Strikes by French ATC cause over a third of air traffic-related flight delays in Europe each year, at a cost of about €300m (£263m) to airlines.

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