Air Traffic Control strikes

Increasingly crowded skies mean changes in Air Traffic Control are inevitable

This week Air Traffic Control (ATC) workers in France went on strike for 2 days causing aviation and travel chaos across Europe, with more than a quarter of flights cancelled from France’s busiest airports.

More industrial action is likely, as ATC across Europe are protesting plans to centralise air traffic regulation in Europe – under the proposed Single European Sky (SES) initiative. They believe the plans could “jeopardise safety and the number and quality of jobs”.

Although private jets are less affected by strikes than the scheduled airlines (private jets can use different airports and avoid congested air space), industrial action still makes a huge economic and service impact on the aviation industry as a whole. In my view, the action is shortsighted.

Air travel – whether by airline or private aviation – is integral to business. As Europe’s economies struggle to recover from recession, anything that puts people off travelling by air is going to slow down the bounce back. The short term disruption caused by the strikes is a major headache for aviation and business alike. And in the long term, for air travel (and business) to grow, a shake-up in the way the skies are monitored is simply inevitable.

The businesses that are thriving post-recession are those that are driving efficiency in their sector – through the use of technology. And efficiency is the key driver in the European Commission’s SES proposals.

The European Commission estimates that inefficiencies in the way Europe’s air traffic is currently managed (whereby each member state monitors its own skies) add 42km (26 miles) to the average flight. Aircraft burn more fuel and generate more emissions. The system causes delays and costs airlines and customers €5bn per annum. The commission says that their centralisation plans could triple airspace capacity, cut costs and reduce delays.

Ryanair’s Robin Kierly has suggested that Air Traffic Controllers shouldn’t be allowed to strike (in the same way that the police and army cannot strike) – as they are holding European citizens to ransom. ATC staff in the USA are prohibited from striking, as their roles are considered integral to national security.

I don’t always find myself agreeing with the views of the budget airline, but I have to agree. The strikes are bad news for aviation, and bad news for Europe.

For advice on private jet flights during air traffic control strikes, contact our multi-lingual Operations team (24hrs) on +44 (0)1747 642 777