By slayer (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON – Over the weekend, Ryanair and IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus) announced that they would be submitting a formal complaint to the European Commission regarding the 300% increase in Air Traffic Control strikes since 2017.

There have been 24 strike days in 2018, causing around 5,000 flight cancellations as well as thousands of delays.

Both Ryanair and IAG believe that the projected economic impact of such strikes to the EU is at around €13.4 billion, with the figure expected to rise as strikes continue.

The Numbers

The carriers also noted a four-fold increase in flight delays over 15 minutes in May 2018, climbing to a whopping 56,000 delays, compared to the 14,000 in the same period last year.

A4E member airline has said that around 784,000 passengers across Europe have been affected by the strikes and that millions of passengers had been affected by flight delays caused by airspace diversions and residual backups.

Eurocontrol stated that around 39,000 flights were delayed due to ATC strikes, accounting for 30% of the total en-route delays in May.

The group also said that total delay in minutes for 2018 will be up by 53% compared to last year and could mount up to 14.3 million minutes in 2018, compared to the 9.3 million minutes last year.

Complaint To Follow

Willie Walsh, IAG’s CEO, said that “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,” said Walsh.

Photo: Javier Rodriguez

IAG’s CEO added that the 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 airspace.”

For IAG’s Vueling, every time the Marseille ATC strikes, at least 50% of its flights are severely affected.

“The EU must act now to protect the rights of the consumers and prevent long-term damage to European economies,” stressed the CEO.

Ryanair Gets Serious

Likewise, Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, deemed these strikes as unacceptable.

“Europe’s ATC providers are approaching the point of a meltdown with hundreds of flights being canceled daily either because of ATC strikes or because Europe’s ATC doesn’t have enough staff,” he said.

According to the always controversial O’Leary, “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.”

A series of Ryanair 737-800s on the ramp at one of the carrier’s European focus cities. Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline by passengers carried, and consistently one of the world’s most profitable airlines. (Credits: Ryanair)

Thomas Reyneart, MD at A4E revealed that his organization has been working with the French government officials and Parliamentarians to establish a stable and long-term solution to these disruptions.

The overall consensus is that if a solution isn’t found in the short-term, thousands of more flights and millions of passengers will be disrupted, especially now that Europe’s peak Summer season has begun.

Ryanair went further ahead with identifying the amount of damage these strikes are causing throughout its network.

“Customers’ journeys and supply chains are severely disrupted; diversions to avoid closed airspace result in much longer flights and burn more fuel, resulting in higher CO2 emissions; tourism is most affected due to canceled flights to prime holiday destinations, putting small and medium-size businesses at risk; and airlines have to pay passengers compensation for the delays and rebook them on other flights, significantly disrupting customers’ travel plans and the airlines’ operations.”

The Ultra-Low-Cost Carrier claims that it is not responsible to refund its passengers for flight cancellations derived from ATC strikes.

Mitigation Techniques

A4E airlines will lobby the European Commission (EC) into implementing a mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for employees wishing to strike as well as ensuring the protection of overflights while ensuring it does not come to “the detriment of local services” as well as guarantees on minimum operable services to be provided.

It is evident now that the carriers in A4E, including Ryanair and IAG, are growing in concern about these strikes, pushing the European Commision to act on it immediately.

If the strikes are to continue, we could see the 13.45 billion EUR figure increase exponentially.