20 MARCH 2017
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There’s nothing like the threat of a looming election to muzzle normally loquacious politicians faced with intractable problems. Even those not always forthcoming can become strangely even less so.
Did someone mention François Gérard Georges Nicolas Hollande, his seven years in charge of France now up? He is standing down, but the damage may already have been done.
In face of yet another strike last week against airlines and their passengers by French air traffic controllers, the président de la Republique “has let it be known” that he will resist union pressure to abandon labour reforms. His prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, equally says the reforms “must go ahead”.
And the result of this alleged heavyweight standing-up-to-the-unions bravado?
More strikes almost certainly!
For Hollande, read Merkel, who saw ITB Berlin disrupted this year by baggage handlers in her own capital city.
For these politicians, who at least were elected to their posts, read the EU. Where is the concerted action from on high that could call the unions to account?
A4E (the group representing the major European airlines) and Ryanair have started petitions in an attempt to bring pressure to bear. In the absence of anything else, BTN this week urges readers to sign via the respective websites so the powers-that-be can see for themselves the growing groundswell of opinion in the industry.
With more action confidently predicted as the year wears on and peak season approaching, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said: “We call on the French government and European commission to take immediate action to prevent thousands of European consumers from having their travel plans disrupted by a tiny group of ATC unions going on strike.
“They cannot stand idly by and allow another summer of disruption and travel misery for European consumers to take place.”
BTN among many others, is tempted to say: “Oh yes, they can.”
Witness Carolyn McCall, CEO of easyJet: “We’re really disappointed with last week’s unnecessary air traffic control strike action which caused significant disruption to passengers and airlines across Europe.
“We’re working with other airlines, as a member of Airlines for Europe (A4E), to call on governments to minimise the disproportionate impact of ATC strikes on passengers.
“It is completely disproportionate and unacceptable that a small group of controllers can halt more than 1,500 flights between all airlines, affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers across Europe. We have suggested a range of measures that would lower the impact of strikes whilst fully respecting the right to industrial action.”
Action at control centres in Brest, Bordeaux and Marseille forced airlines to reduce their fight offerings in France by 25%, affecting not only flights serving Paris but also those overflying France, including links from the UK and Italy, Switzerland and Spain.
Airlines had to fly detours of hundreds of miles to avoid French airspace while adjacent airspaces had to be regulated, too, as a consequence of additional traffic refiling to avoid the high delays due to industrial action.
A4E and by association its airline members has been a persistent critic of the strikes. Managing director Thomas Reynaert said: “It is devastating to see that more than 1m passengers suffered from this year’s first ATC strike. We cannot wait any more – European and French policy-makers need to implement measures capable of minimising air traffic management disruption’s impact on travellers.
“Political, operational and technological solutions exist for a problem that affects the whole continent. These solutions would allow to limit the impact of such strikes on travellers and business, without questioning controllers’ fundamental right to strike.
“Travellers can unite and let out their frustration about the continuous travel disruptions supporting our petition, ‘Keep Europe’s Skies open’. We will present this petition in Brussels to urge the EU Commission and the EU Parliament to finally take action. Holidays and the summer break are ahead of us.”
The figures from A4E speak for themselves. During the 2010-16 period, there were 217 ATC strike days in the EU – one disrupted day every nine days. In total, there were 278 disrupted days if you take into account the days before and after an ATC strike as flights had to be cancelled in advance and accumulated delays spilt over to the next day.
Since 2010, the overall impact of ATC strikes has been a cost of €12bn to the EU economy, associated with more than 140,000 jobs.
Sign the petition on www.keepeuropesskiesopen.com
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
David Bentley, Manchester/UK
Anytime, any place, anywhere. I don't do excuses. BTW it's pejorative.
Laurie Price, Horsham
Mr Bentley obviously knows my backside better thhan me! Like most Leave supporters he understands RIEN! All he can offer is pegorative comments. I calkenge him to a debate on the EU, but like most Leavers he would find an exvuse and have no cogent arguments other than offering invective!
David Bentley, Manchester
Mr Preston is correct about Le Pen. Mr Remainiac of Horsham as usual is talking out of his backside. 'Strike' is what the French do; they're world champions at it. The EU is a waste of space and this is one of the many reasons I voted out. Funny isn't it how EU-lover boy O'Leary consistently fails to acknowledge that fact.
I have signed the petition but it's a waste of time. Socialism of the most destructive and pernicious kind, and a sense of entitlement, are too deeply embedded into the psyche of the French for anything to change for the better. If Marine Le Pen were to do well in the Presidential elections, or even win, it will bring about a much needed shake-up in that country.
Michael King, Brough
It might be appropriate to publish the names and email addresses of the leaders of the unions involved (UNSA-ICNA and SNCTA) so as to allow airline users to direct their complaints to those leaders. It might also have the effect of blocking up their email systems.
Laurie Price, Horsham
Constant ATC and other strikes in Europe damage the industry and need to be addressed. A powerful continuing voice from UK within the EU would have helped that process. But nothing like the adverse impact of the potential loss of access to EU Open Skies post the ill advised BREXIT vote so vociferously supported by some at BTN!A bit of thought and consistency from BTN would be helpful.