Hundreds of thousands of flyers are likely to be affected by disruption in French airspace control in early 2024. Thousands of flight cancellations will take place in January and February due to a major overhaul of the country’s air traffic control systems.
For over a month, between 9 January and 14 February, there will be a 20% reduction in the number of departures and arrivals at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, Orly, Le Bourget and Beauvais airports as airlines follow official advice for the upgrade period.
Athis-Mons will be the latest testground, or test airspace, for the new system. It is the largest air traffic control centre in the country and oversees all Paris and Beauvais airports.
Could my flight be affected?
Some passengers are already wary of French airspace due to the constant threat of French air traffic control strikes. Now estimates by business channel BFM put the number of flights to be cancelled during the upgrade at 16,500, meaning many more flyers will experience disruption to their plans.
Even if not flying to or from France, a flight could still be affected if it needs to pass through French airspace. Over 2.5 million journeys fly through French airspace each year and it is likely the disruption will have a knock-on effect throughout Europe.
Would-be passengers for that period should check advice on their airline’s website. Air France has already announced its changes, with long-haul flights prioritised and the carrier telling French media it had been “forced” to focus on cutting short and medium-haul flights.
Why is an upgrade needed?
Based on a system from the 1970s, France’s air traffic control system is no longer fit for purpose due to the aviation sector’s rapid growth. It has undergone various upgrades over the years, but still uses paper ticket system in places to represent incoming planes. Now a massive 80% of the system will be overhauled by changes costing around €1 billion, an investment expected to improve efficiency.
Eurocontrol is partnering the current implementation of “4-FLIGHT”, described by Florian Guillermet, Director of the DSNA (Direction des Services de la Navigation Aerienne) as “a major step forward for air navigation in France. The operational performance of this new generation ATM (air traffic management) system will be of benefit not only to France but also the entire European network.”
The first phases of the upgrades took place at air traffic control centres in Reims and Aix-en- Provence, but now the new software will be subject to its biggest test yet, Athis-Mons.
The UK will be watching closely after a catastrophic air traffic control failure caused major disruption in its skies at a key holiday time earlier this year.