Ryanair demands EU action over French air traffic control strikes

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Ryanair wants the EU to force France to allow flights in its airspace when air traffic controllers are on strike — arguing that recent industrial action has disrupted travel for nearly 1 million passengers.

Two executives from the low-cost carrier were in Brussels on Monday to announce the launch of a petition to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, saying that strikes in France — over President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform plan — have already led to hundreds of cancelations in the past few days.

Ryanair wants the Commission to force France to include overflights in its definition of the “minimum service” that air traffic controllers are required to provide, even when the sector is on strike. 

“The European Commission has done nothing on this,” Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson said, arguing it should be up to Brussels to guarantee the freedom of movement of EU passengers.

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The carrier says it’s not fair that passengers who are not traveling to or from France, but only flying over the country, should be affected by a French strike on a national issue. 

“People can understand if you’re traveling to France and there is a strike, ‘fine, I could be impacted,’” Neal McMahon, the airline’s director of operations, told reporters.

“But somebody going from Valencia to Milan won’t be able to understand that it was delayed or potentially canceled because the French are on strike. It’s impossible for consumers to understand that and it’s not fair,” he added.  

The current wave of strikes has caused 300 flight cancellations and 6,000 delayed journeys, affecting 1 million passengers — 80 percent of whom were not flying to or from France, the executives said.

They also cited the additional environmental impact of having aircraft take more circuitous routes to fly around the country. 

The pair suggested that Europe’s air traffic managers Eurocontrol should step in to oversee air traffic control when French controllers go on strike. They also pointed out that air traffic controller in other countries, like Spain or Greece, are still required to provide guidance to planes flying over their countries. 

France’s air traffic controllers have gone on strike for 13 days since the start of the year, with another four days of strikes planned, according to Wilson.

The petition had just over 43,000 signatures at the time of writing. If a petition receives 1 million signatures from seven different EU countries, the Commission is required to officially consider it.