With most countries dropping Covid-19 travel restrictions last year, demand for international travel started to pick up again. The sudden surge left most airlines and airports, that had scaled operations down during the pandemic, unprepared, leading to a general travel chaos. Towards the end of the year, things seemed to return to normal, but Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has warned that the summer of 2023 will not be much different than last year, with major delays and cancellations looming on the horizon.
1. Closed air corridors
The still ongoing war in Ukraine means that most Southern Poland’s airspace is closed to commercial traffic, due to NATO exercises, O’Leary explained. As a consequence, north-south routes from the Baltic states to Greece and Italy have to fly over Germany to avoid Poland, while long-haul flights to Asia have to fly , over Romania and Iran because they cannot fly over Russia.
There is real pressure on Germany, northern Italy, those kinds of corridors there and that’s going to be a challenge.Michael O’Leary, Ryanair CEO
“2023 will be a watershed year for the network, requiring all actors to pull out all the stops to keep delays down against a backdrop of ongoing airspace issues triggered by the Ukraine war, extra aircraft in the system, possible industrial action, ongoing staffing challenges, air traffic control system changes and the return of demand from China and the Far East”, Eurocontrol also cautioned.
2. Air traffic controllers’ strikes
Nevertheless, according to Ryanair’s CEO, the most problematic will be the air traffic controllers’ (ATC) strikes. “The big issue is the impact of strikes. French air traffic control strikes started on January 19 this year. ATC strikes will be a major challenge in the summer and cause a lot of delays. Each strike day costs us 18,000-20,000 passengers because we have to cancel flights. There is a simple solution which is to protect overflights during ATC strikes, which is what they already do in Greece and Italy”, O’Leary pointed out.
Air traffic control is going to be the trickiest constituent going into the summer.Jozsef Varadi, WizzAir CEO
On 31 January, Ryanair made an official call for the European Commission to protect overflights during ATC strikes. The airline condemns the French government for protecting its domestic flights using minimum service agreements that ensure 80% of short-haul domestic flights remain operational, leaving only the passing overflights to be cancelled. To prevent needlessly disrupting the travel plans of passengers merely flying over France, O’Leary highlighted the upper and lower airspace should be separated.
Other airlines share Ryanair’s concerns over the disruptions. “Air traffic control is going to be the trickiest constituent going into the summer, because the whole system is understaffed and dealing with hugely increased complexity due to the partial closure of airspace and an increase in military use of airspace”, Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi commented on the ATC strikes.
“Protecting overflights during ATC strikes in individual member states, as they do in Greece and Italy, is the most simple and effective solution to avoid unnecessary mass disruption and should be immediately implemented by the EU Commission to prevent the needless disruption of ATC strikes last summer being repeated in Summer 2023”, stressed Ryanair’s Neal McMahon.