British Airways-owner IAG, easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air on Tuesday (24 July) filed a complaint to the EU over what they say is France’s failure to tackle strikes by air traffic controllers.
Repeated strikes by France’s controllers, particularly in the south, are having a devastating impact on schedules and denying passengers their legal right to free movement, the airlines said in a joint statement.
IAG and Ryanair warned in June that they would file a complaint. They have now been joined by Hungarian no-frills carrier Wizz Air and British counterpart easyJet.
“International Airlines Group (IAG), Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air have submitted complaints to the European Commission against France as its air traffic controllers’ strikes restrict the fundamental principle of freedom of movement within the EU,” the statement said.
“The airlines are not questioning the right to strike but believe France is breaking EU law by not enabling flights over the country during strikes.”
According to the statement, French air traffic control (ATC) strikes have quadrupled this year compared with 2017.
“The right to strike needs to be balanced against freedom of movement,” said IAG chief executive Willie Walsh.
“It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected during French ATC strikes.
“Passengers on routes that overfly France, especially the large airspace that covers Marseille and the Mediterranean, are also subject to delays and massive disruptions,” said Walsh.
He said all airlines were affected and has had a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.”
The French ministry for transport entered the debate Tuesday by stressing that in France “the right to strike is a constitutional right which should not be brought into question”, while noting it was strictly limited in terms of aviation “so as to ensure a minimum service.”
A French senate report in June said that the country’s air traffic control was responsible for a third of all aviation delays in Europe, according to Le Parisien newspaper.
Between 2004 and 2016, French air traffic controllers were on strike for 254 days, vastly outstripping their closest rival Greece, where there were 46 days of stoppages and Italy with 37, according to the report seen by the daily.
In a separate development on Tuesday, dozens of Ryanair’s Ireland-based pilots staged their third 24-hour strike in an ongoing dispute over working arrangements including annual leave and promotions.
The industrial action has led to the cancellation of 16 flights affecting some 2,500 customers.
In addition, Ryanair cabin crew in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy are going on strike on Wednesday and Thursday, leading to the cancellation of 600 flights over two days and affecting 100,000 passengers.