Airline bosses have called on the European Commission to legislate to reduce the number of ground air traffic control strikes, and on the European Union as a whole to lift “all unreasonable taxes” on aviation.
The CEOs of the EU’s five largest airlines, Ryanair, Air-France-KLM, Easyjet, International Airlines Group, and Lufthansa Group, want a bloc-wide, binding, dispute-resolution mechanism to be part of the executive’s new aviation strategy. But unions said they should instead focus on recognising trade unions through the industry.
More than 3,000 flights were cancelled in 2015 and there had been nine air traffic control walk-outs in the last year, they told reporters today (17 June) in a joint press conference, their first together, in Brussels.
They used it to demand the removal of all “unreasonable” taxes on aviation, arguing it created jobs and economic growth and announced the creation of a new industry body, based on the US Airlines for America and open to all airlines, which would lobby on its behalf.
The European Commission is working on an aviation package including a strategy to bolster the competitiveness of the sector. The package will be put forward towards the end of the year and is expected to include proposals for new EU regulation.
The industrial dispute mechanism was not intended to outlaw or replace strikes by traffic control but to provide a first option before industrial action, said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.
“We are specifically not trying to outlaw strikes,” said O’Leary. “It’s about introducing a new club to the golf bag, so that a strike is not the first thing in the golf bag.”
The EU could minimise passenger disruption by keeping airspace open over countries where there was an ongoing strike. Technology would allow planes to safety overfly such member states.
“The EU needs to ensure strikes don’t cause disruption to passengers,” said the controversial boss of the low cost airline.
Patrick Itschert, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, told EURACTIV, “The right to strike is a fundamental right. There can be no question of undermining that right. The way to resolve disputes is through negotiation with trade unions. The CEOs should instead ensure recognition of trade unions throughout the airline industry.”
The bloc should “reset” the Single European Sky strategy to improve the use of public money to make airspace providers more efficient, O’Leary added at the press conference.
EURACTIV has asked the Air Traffic Control Association for reaction. The story will be updated with the responses as they are received.
The European Commission, which closed a consultation into its new strategy on 10 June, was also asked for comment. It said it was analysing the 280 contributions it received and was preparing a report.
“Today’s meeting of five airline CEOs has nothing to do with the European Commission,” Jakub Adamowicz, Commission transport spokesman told EURACTIV. “We are of course in constant contact with all key stakeholders of the civil aviation industry,” he added.
The five bosses, who stressed that the aviation industry was vital for economic growth and was a job creator, outlined a series of reforms that they want adopted in the new strategy.
Conspicuous by its absence is any call for a regulation for a standardised minimum size of cabin baggage that would be accepted by all airlines.
That was not and would not be discussed, said International Airlines Group’s Willie Walsh
“Our industry doesn’t just create growth and jobs in our industry and others – it has a huge multiplying effect in being part of the [transport] infrastructure,” said Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr. It could give Europe the edge in terms of global competitiveness, Spohr claimed.
Airports cost passengers too much, said Air France-KLM’s Alexandre de Juniac. Costs ranged from 20% to 8% for the five airlines.
Airport charges in Europe were among the highest worldwide, he said, before calling for more effective regulation of monopoly airports. Security costs were not properly controlled, he added.
Airlines had consistently delivered lower fares for consumers over the last two decades, said Easyjet’s Carolyn McCall, “now is the time to ensure those reductions are matched by other parts of the industry.” The ground handling market should also be liberalised.
The CEOs said pending EU laws, such as the Single European Sky, passenger rights, and the slot regulation needed to be finished and brought into force.