On 20 March, Ryanair launched a petition calling on the European Commission to force France to protect overflights during the French air traffic control (ATC) strikes. On 28 April, a little over five weeks later, the airline already confirmed the petition had over 600,000 signatures from the 1 million milestone it needs to submit it to the Commission.
Similarly to other sectors in the country, the ATC is striking against president Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms. Ryanair’s 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.
We are rapidly approaching the 1 million signatures we need to force the EU Commission to take action to protect overflights and EU citizens’ Freedom of Movement.Ryanair spokesperson
In the first 4 months of 2023, there have been 50 days of French ATC strikes, the 51st one taking place on 1 May (10 times more than all of 2022), which have forced Ryanair to cancel over 3,700 flights, meaning over 666,000 passengers had their plans affected at short notice.
“French ATC strikes are the No.1 risk to EU citizens’ travel plans this summer and passengers are really starting to understand that the EU Commission is doing nothing to mitigate that risk and protect their Freedom of Movement. EU citizens are now signing our petition to demand action from the EU Commission to protect them and their family’s travel plans this summer. The EU’s Single Market for air travel should not be repeatedly disrupted by tiny French ATC unions because the EU Commission fails to take action. It’s time to protect overflights during French ATC strikes as Italy and Greece already do. If French ATC unions insist to strike (as is their right) then cancel French flights and protect overflights”, a Ryanair spokesperson said.
Only between 19 January and 9 April, a total of 6,338 flights were cancelled due 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 80% of the delayed flights due to the strikes 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.
Ryanair started the petition as a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), a mechanism 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 citizens of at least 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”, Ryanair’s Eddie Wilson said when launching the ECI. After the analysis, the Commission may or may not propose new regulation.