Moves towards 'Single European Sky' sought to foil air traffic control strikes


Europe's largest airlines are lobbying the continent's governments to allow neighbouring countries to carry out air traffic control (ATC) in airspace affected by industrial disputes.

Airlines for Europe (A4E), which represents carriers such as easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways' parent company IAG, wants an end to the cancellations and delays caused by ATC strikes.

Flights to, from and over France have been severely disrupted by dozens of strikes in recent years.

Aviation industry body Iata described the strikes as one of the "biggest challenges we see in Europe".

Aage Duenhaupt of A4E said talks are ongoing with the European Commission about forming an action plan to reduce disruption from strikes.

"We could be in a position in the future to control parts of the European airspace from other countries or from central bases and not from an affected country," he explained.

Mr Duenhaupt said technology is already in place to enable immediate improvements in ATC, although a fully integrated airspace would require more advanced work.

Aircraft flying over the UK are controlled by ATC centres in Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire.

Flights between London and Spain were delayed by as much as eight hours during a recent French ATC strike with one service between Heathrow and Barcelona being forced to fly far off France's west coast to avoid the country's airspace, Mr Duenhaupt added.

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told reporters at Iata's annual general meeting in Dublin that the situation in France is "having a significant impact on all European aviation".

He said: "It's putting stress on the whole European ATC network. We believe there are technological solutions that exist, that could be put into place and we've been calling on the (European) Commission to look at these initiatives.

"This is something that is not driven specifically by the situation in France - where we have seen a number of ATC strikes - but it's an initiative that could be put in place at any time to provide resilience for the ATC system in Europe, which is clearly in the interests of everybody."

ATC strikes have taken place in Greece, Italy and Belgium in recent months.

Mr Walsh will join other chief executives of A4E members in Brussels later this month to call on governments to make progress on the issue.

Rafael Schvartzman, Iata's regional vice president for Europe, blamed "political reasons" for the lack of action, saying that countries are "trying to keep these spaces in a traditional manner with borders".

Iata is calling for the long-delayed introduction of Single European Sky (SES), which would create one European airspace.

It has previously commissioned a study which calculated that the inefficiency of the current system will cost 245 billion euro (£189 billion) by 2035 if nothing is done.

"We can reduce and simplify the number of control centres to be able to manage efficiently the aircraft in Europe," Mr Schvartzman said.

"It is something that can be done today by governments."

Mr Walsh described the implementation of SES as "too long in the discussion phase".

Ryanair cancelled 75 flights on Thursday amid the latest French ATC strike.

The Dublin-based airline said it was the 50th such strike since 2009 and the ninth in the past 10 weeks.

The low-cost carrier is urging people to sign a petition calling on the European Commission to introduce measures to alleviate the impact of the strikes.