Since the beginning of the year, unions across France have been in an ongoing battle against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to increase the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 years old. Strikes from air traffic controllers (ATCs), airport staff, public transport employees, as well as the education, industrial and energy sectors have affected the country in recent months.
From 19 January to 9 April, a total of 6,338 flights were cancelled to the ATC strikes, according to data the General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC) shared with BFM Business. Although the DGAC had asked airlines to preventively cancel flights ahead of time at several airports, including Paris-Orly, Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes and Toulouse, most of the cancellations were made last minute. “When the DGAC asks airlines to reduce their flight schedule, the airlines generally have 24 hours to send a proposal for their modified flight schedule for the day(s) concerned”, the authority explained.
Over these few months 572,085 flights crossed French airspace and needed to coordinate with ATC. The strikes do not only affect flights that depart from or land in France, but also those merely passing through French airspace. In March, Ryanair revealed that, besides the 300 cancelled flights since the beginning of the year, 80% of the delayed ones were overflights.
On the other hand, the French minimum service agreements ensure that 80% of domestic flights are serviced, even during strikes. Consequently, Air France only cancelled 30 to 50 flights over the past few months, mostly at the Paris-Orly airport.
“It’s just not fair that flights to and from France are protected by minimum service laws during ATC strikes, but overflights are unfairly cancelled because the EU Commission has failed to defend the single market for flights and the freedom of movement of EU citizens”, Ryanair’s Eddie Wilson said at a press conference in Brussels.
The Irish low-cost carrier has launched a petition calling on the European Commission and Ursula von der Leyen to take action against the French government to ensure European citizens’ right to free movement. The petition asks for EU overflights to be included in the French minimum service laws, for Europe’s other ATCs, overseen by Eurocontrol, to manage flights over France during French ATC strikes and for a mandate that French ATC unions engage in arbitration instead of strikes.