After failed calls on the European Commission to protect overflights (flights that do not take off or land in France, but merely have routes passing over it) during French air traffic controllers (ATC) strikes, Ryanair has launched a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) petition, asking passengers to sign for keeping EU skies open.
The airline condemns Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission for not taking any action against the French government only protecting its domestic flights during ATC strikes, leaving overflights to be cancelled.
While we respect the right to strike, it is completely unacceptable that Europe’s passenger flights that overfly France are repeatedly delayed or cancelled by French ATC strikes.Eddie Wilson, CEO Ryanair DAC
According to Ryanair, since the beginning of 2023, French ATC strikes, caused by Macron’s pension reform, have led to the cancellation of 300 flights and disruption of an additional 6,000, 80% of which being overflights. Not only have the total of 13 days of strikes affected 1 million passengers, but the airline points out the need to circumvent French air space required an additional 1.1 million kg of fuel, contributing to 4,000 extra tonnes of CO2 emissions.
The petition is asking the EU to protect free movement by:
- Including EU overflights in minimum services laws.
- Allowing Europe’s other ATCs, overseen by Eurocontrol, to manage flights over France during French ATC strikes.
- Mandating that French ATC unions engage in arbitration instead of strikes.
Minimum service agreements define a certain degree of operations that must be ensured even during strikes. Currently, the French laws only protect 80% of short-haul domestic flights, while countries like Greece, Italy and Spain also include overflights. “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 ECI mechanism was established in 2007 by the Treaty of Lisbon to allow citizens to be directly involved in the development of EU policies. A petition can be started by anyone and if it gets 1 million signatories from 7 different Member States, the Commission is obliged to seriously consider the proposition. “After all, if the EU won’t listen to its airlines, perhaps they’ll listen to millions of Europe’s passengers instead”, Wilson said. After the analysis, the Commission may or may not propose new regulation.
Launched on 20 March, the petition has already gathered over 45,000 thousand signatures. “One of the benefits of joining the EU was freedom of movement. France was at the fore when this was agreed and now they are restricting movement. Step up”, one of the signatories shared.