Hundreds of flights have been cancelled or delayed due to a strike by French air traffic controllers and engineers. The staff walk-out began at 19:00 local time (UTC+1) on the 8th May and is set to last until 06:00 local time on the 10th. Marseille airspace will be the hardest hit by the ATC strike.
Unions representing workers of France’s Direction des Services de la Navigation Aérienne (DSNA) called for industrial action last month. The DSNA provides air navigation and communications to national and international flights.
The French strike coincides with a day of protests throughout the country over worker’s rights and job losses. The 35-hour stoppage is one of a glut of disruptive measures designed to urge France’s President Macron to rethink his labour reforms.
Because so many aircraft en route to and from the UK utilize French airspace, the prediction is of widespread delays and cancellations. British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair have already cancelled flights in response.
An estimated 550 domestic and international flights will be affected by the walk-out, leaving 75,000 passengers stranded, according to Connexion France.
In an effort to minimise disruption to over-flights, the DSNA has agreed to service 50% of flights transiting French airspace. However, such a move will bring little solace to those caught up in the turmoil.
Some flights may be able to circumnavigate French airspace, but this will lead to delays and extended flight times.
Switzerland is opening up additional airspace to cope with re-routings, and heavier traffic is expected along RNAV terminal transition routes.
The ATC strike will be more damaging to flights transiting the Marseille Area Control Centre, according Simon Calder of The Independent.
Airports at Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse as well as Paris Orly are expected to be hit hard.
British routes hit
Travel Update reports that EasyJet cancelled 134 flights in the first few hours of the strike. This included ten flights in and out of the UK. The airline has since cancelled another 54 departures, writes Harriet Mallinson for The Express.
65% of EasyJet flights transit France.
In an advisory update posted on the 5th May EasyJet advised its customers, ‘to check the status of their flight on our flight tracker.
‘For cancelled flights only, we advise customers not to travel to the airport but to transfer their flights free of charge or take a refund.’
36 British Airways flights have also been affected by the ATC strike, including flights into and out of Paris, Nice, Lyon and Marseille. Some BA flights to Barcelona, Geneva and Basel have been cancelled.
Airlines not best pleased
Airlines have condemned this latest strike by French ATC workers. This week’s walk-out is the latest in a string of industrial actions planned to maximise disruption to travellers.
The Express quotes a British Airways representative as saying: ‘Yet again the French Air Traffic Control trade unions are causing unnecessary frustration and disruption for customers at a busy time of year.’
French air traffic controllers have taken industrial action almost every year since 2009. In 2016 the unions called at least 14 strikes throughout the year. In 2018, striking controllers at Marseille control centre grounded thousands of flights.
There is some sympathy for the plight of French workers who feel as though their jobs are under threat by Macron’s reforms. But tolerance is wearing thin of the ATC unions that deliberately choose busy times of the year to declare their strikes.