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Air traffic controller shortages and strikes disrupt millions

Ryanair calls for urgent action to prevent meltdown of Europe's air traffic control

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline is calling for urgent action by the EU Commission and European governments to tackle "the alarming deterioration" in Europe’s ATC services in May and June and prevent a full meltdown of ATC services this summer.

Facts and figures: 

  • Over 117,000 flights were delayed with 61% (over 71,000 flights) due to ATC staff shortages and strikes.
  • Over 56,000 flights were delayed more than 15 minutes, a fourfold increase on the 14,000 flights delayed more than 15 minutes in May 2017.
  • Weather delays accounted for 39% (45,000 flights), a fourfold increase in the 11,000 weather delays of May 2017.
  • Strangely, a majority (almost 60%) of these weather delays took place on Fridays and Saturdays rather than the other five days of the week, which suggests that ATC providers are using adverse weather to cover their staff shortages.
  • The EU target delay for 2018 is an average of 0.5 minutes per flight. However, the current forecast for 2018 is now heading towards 1.5 minutes per flight, nearly treble the EU target.
  • In May, Ryanair cancelled just over 1,000 flights, almost all due to ATC staff shortages and strikes. This was 24 times the 43 flights cancelled in May 2017.
  • In May, EasyJet cancelled 974 flights compared to just 117 in May 2017.
  • In May, IAG CEO Willie Walsh said: “The thing most impacted is ATC strikes and the ongoing ATC environment, which is a mess. It is destroying traffic throughout Europe. We thought it would get better in 2018 but it’s getting worse”.

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said French ATC will strike on Saturday and Sunday leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled, disrupting the holiday plans of thousands of passengers.

Many of these flights would not even touch France, yet they woiuld be disrupted because French ATC required airlines to cancel overflights while they protected French domestic routes.

Europe’s airlines were also suffering thousands of ATC delays/cancellations because of staff shortages especially in German and UK ATC providers.

This was unacceptable "and we call on the UK and German governments, and the EU Commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that ATC providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France".

Europe’s ATC providers, he said, were approaching the point of meltdown with hundreds of flights being cancelled daily simply because they did not have enough staff to deal with them.

The situation is particularly acute at weekends where British and German ATC providers are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.

"Urgent action must now be taken by the UK and German Governments, and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands more flights and millions of passengers will be disrupted, particularly in the peak months of July and August, unless this ATC staffing crisis is addressed," he said.

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