More disruption over air traffic control strikes

Holiday travel chaos looms as French air traffic controllers plan further work stoppages this month

Thousands of Irish holidaymakers face travel chaos as French air traffic controllers warned of further industrial action later in the month, with dozens of flights already cancelled.

Yesterday marked the first of a two-day stoppage by the Syndicat National des Contrôleurs du Trafic Aérien (SNCTA), the largest union for French air traffic controllers, with hundreds of flights to and from France cancelled as a result.

Ryanair scrapped more than two dozen flights into and out of Shannon and Dublin Airports yesterday. Air France flights from Ireland to France were also pulled due to the industrial action.

A spokesman for Aer Lingus said it had to cancel one round trip to France yesterday but had managed to deliver eight of the nine scheduled routes, albeit with “significant delays”.

The SNCTA said the work stoppages were due to a dispute over working conditions — and threatened further days of industrial action over the next month.

Further strikes are planned for April 16-18 and from April 29-May 2, coinciding with spring school holidays in France but also likely to affect Irish travellers.

The row centres on plans to raise the retirement age for controllers from 57 to 59 years. The DGAC civil aviation authority asked airlines to cut their scheduled flights by 40% as a result of the industrial action.

Short-haul flights have been the worst affected, with 40% of medium-haul flights to and from Charles de Gaulle airport cancelled yesterday, while flights to and from Orly were similarly affected.

In a statement, Ryanair warned that further travel disruption was likely and hit out at the striking air traffic controllers for their “selfish actions”.

“Ryanair regrets to inform customers that it has been forced to cancel over 250 flights on Wednesday due to a French air traffic control strike,” the airline said in a statement.

“Further cancellations and delays are likely and customers should check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport on the Ryanair.com website, where the latest information will be published.

“We sincerely apologise to all customers affected by this unwarranted strike action and we call on the EU and French authorities to take measures to prevent any further disruption.

“It’s grossly unfair that thousands of European travellers will once again have their travel plans disrupted by the selfish actions of a tiny number of French ATC workers.”

The company said all affected customers would contacted by email and text message and advised of their options — namely, a full refund, free transfer onto the next available flight, or free transfer onto an alternative flight routing.

Some flights heading through French airspace — including Ryanair routes to Alicante and Malaga in Spain and Marrakech in Morocco — were also affected.

Martin Skelly, president of the Irish Travel Agents Association, said his members were “not unaccustomed” to such industrial action, telling RTÉ it was “too early” to say whether it would impact on future bookings.

Regarding the dispute, Mr Skelly said: “It could be resolved very quickly — delays are the big thing at the moment.”

Eurocontrol, which oversees air traffic control across Europe, said many flights were being re-routed so as to avoid French airspace, and that the average delay to flights across Europe yesterday morning was 12.7 minutes — far higher than the target of 30 seconds.

The SNCTA had originally planned to strike on March 25 but cancelled it following the Germanwings crash in which 150 people died in the French Alps.

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