The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has condemned – in the strongest possible terms – the strike action by French air traffic controllers which targets travellers at the start of the busy summer holiday season.
“Unions bent on stopping progress are putting at risk the hard-earned vacations of millions of travellers, and from the public’s perspective, the timing of the strike could even be regarded as malicious,” says Tony Tyler (below), IATA’s Director General and CEO.
As well as holidaymakers, business travellers and companies will all face uncertain waits for seats and shipments as flights are cancelled, delayed or diverted around European airspace.
The six-day strike from one of France’s largest air traffic control unions starts today ahead of the first major travel weekend of the busy European summer holiday season. The strikes are in protest against reforms to bring the management of Europe’s airspace under the streamlined Single European Sky (SES), which IATA supports.
SES aims to transform the costly patchwork of 37 civilian air traffic control organisations in Europe into a seamless air traffic management system.
“There are more borders in the skies over Europe than exist on land. And that comes at a great cost,” says Tyler. “In 2012, over 130 million hours of potentially productive time were wasted because of delays that could have been prevented with SES. It is indefensible that France’s air traffic controllers are now going on strike in order to perpetuate travel delays in Europe.”
Eurocontrol, the European organisation for the safety of air navigation, estimates that the failure to implement SES resulted in 70 million minutes of delays for aircraft in 2012. That is the equivalent of 133 aircraft being grounded for an entire year.
IATA says the costs of this are high: €6bn ($8.15bn) in lost productivity by travellers spending unnecessary time on aircraft; €3bn ($4.08bn) in unnecessary operating costs; and 7.8m tonnes of unnecessary carbon emissions.
A WARNING TO FRANCE
The SES goals are said to also include improving safety, cutting emissions and creating jobs. “Our own research [the IATA Blueprint report on SES implementation] confirmed that it can be done without a single controller losing his or her job. Who could be against that? This strike is totally unjustified,” said Tyler.
IATA also notes that France is a member of the Single Sky Committee that agreed to SES implementation. “We expect France to keep its commitment to deliver the SES. It must not buckle under the pressure of a privileged few controllers seeking to protect themselves from the ‘efficiency’ that every other industry and worker is challenged to achieve. We urge the French government to make a strong intervention to protect travellers from this malicious and unjustified strike action,” said Tyler.