BRUSSELS, March 30 — European airline leaders yesterday called for measures to prevent chronic French air traffic control strikes penalising thousands of passengers using the country’s airspace for transit, as Paris warned of new protests on Thursday.
Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said it was a “scandal” that French strikes had blocked many flights over France’s airspace, disrupting services between different countries including the busy tourist market between Britain and Spain.
Airlines have to compensate passengers for long delays or cancellations under European passenger laws but are unable to recover penalties from air traffic authorities when airspace is blocked, he told the A4E Aviation Summit in Brussels.
Tension between airlines and French controllers has been a recurring issue but escalated this year as the controllers joined strikes over planned changes to the retirement age.
France’s DGAC aviation authority said it was applying minimum service rules for some flights but the airline industry wants this to apply to overflights, as well as domestic trips.
O’Leary said airports were better prepared for delays this summer after widespread chaos last year but that he expected further air traffic control problems in coming months.
Lack of support
Strikes that have gripped France and other European nations were among a cluster of concerns raised by airline leaders at their annual public event in Brussels.
Airline bosses also lamented what they see as insufficient support from the European Union to help drive up production of greener Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and bring down its cost, seen as one of the only short-term solutions to decarbonise the sector.
They said that the burden needed to be spread across the sector, not placed solely on the shoulders of airlines. Critics say airlines are not doing their part to help drive investment in sustainable fuels.
“We are running businesses. I think we are proud of what we have achieved...But now it’s up to the voters and potential customers, and consumers like industries, to decide if they want to put their money in it,” said Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr.
He added that only 4 per cent of Lufthansa customers were purchasing a special more expensive ‘green’ airfare ticket, while Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said less than 1 per cent of its customers purchased voluntary carbon offsets offered by the airline.
The airline leaders also stepped up calls for longer-term reforms to Europe’s fragmented airspace, which is separated along national lines, resulting in delays. This would also help the sector reduce carbon emissions, they say.
The European Commission has been working for years on a long-delayed reform called Single European Sky. Political analysts say it is being held up by individual nations worried about the impact on jobs at national control centres.
EU Transport Commissioner Adina-Ioana Valean said she hoped for some progress later this year, without elaborating. — Reuters