Europe Faces Travel Chaos as Air Traffic Control Threatens Strike

flights Europe strike
Flights to and from Athens international airport will also be affected if the strike goes ahead. Credit: Greek Reporter

Hundreds of thousands of flights across Europe this summer are in jeopardy after air traffic controllers vowed to take strike action.

Up to 12,600 flights, every day – around a third of the journeys made across the continent during the peak summer holiday period – could be delayed or canceled as a result of the industrial action.

Workers at Eurocontrol, which manages European airspace, have said they will walk out in a dispute over pay, working hours and staffing issues, according to The Times.

An industry source told the newspaper: “In a full-blown strike, 20 to 30% of flights would be at least delayed.” The source added: “They are big numbers.”

The first round of strikes is expected to be announced as soon as Monday unless last-minute crisis talks can reach an agreement.

But officials at the European air traffic management body are said to have described the walkouts as “inevitable”, with no contingency plan believed to be in place.

It is more bad news for holidaymakers who were warned earlier this week to brace themselves for a “challenging” summer of travel involving delays and longer flight times, in particular to and from London, Barcelona, Brussels, Athens, Marseille and Budapest.

Eurocontrol is expecting around 33,000 flights for the next eight weeks – with the number set to rise to 34,000 on Fridays in July and August.

Air Traffic Control strike could be “extremely disruptive” for flights

The impact of the strikes is predicted to be “massive and extremely disruptive”, a senior airline source claimed.

In a letter to managers, the transport workers union Union Syndicale Bruxelles (USB), called for more controllers to be hired immediately.

Eurocontrol – which handles tens of thousands of messages from pilots and staff every day – is believed to be operating with a 25% shortfall, equating to 40 workers.

The Times reports the letter says: “As difficult as industrial action is on everyone, we see no other path forward than to inform you of our decision to progress [with strikes].”

The union said its demands are “lawful, strong and fair” and “in the interest of the agency, the network manager, our stakeholders (operational and member states), the flying public at large and ourselves as loyal employees of the agency”.

Greece to be hit hard

Greece which is so dependent on summer tourism is likely to suffer if industrial action takes place.

Millions of tourists who have booked their holidays in Greece could find their flights rescheduled or cancelled dealing a blow to the hopes for a new record for travel receipts this year.

The forecast for higher revenues was supported by Bank of Greece data for January-March 2023, when travel receipts showed an increase of 63.8% from Q1 of 2022, amounting to €732.9 million.

Usually only 5% of annual travel receipts are recorded in the first quarter of each year and 25% in Q2. The third quarter is the peak of the year and accounts for 60% of travel receipts, while another 10% comprises Q4 receipts.

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