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 cancelled 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.
Impact ‘massive and extremely disruptive’
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”.
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Summer of strike action looms
Eurocontrol director-general, Raul Medina, earlier said the war in Ukraine meant there was less airspace available for travel.
“To be successful over the summer, we need everyone to play their part,” he said.
“Airports need to be well-staffed, it is vital (air traffic services) provide enough capacity and airlines stick to their schedules.”
A Eurocontrol spokesperson told Sky News that a trade union “announced a period of six months during which industrial action could take place” in its network manager operations centre.
“No specific dates for industrial action have been announced; this was a pre-warning,” they said.
The company is “actively engaging with all social partners” and is “committed to finding solutions through social dialogue”, the spokesperson added.
“Eurocontrol is making every effort to keep negotiations open and to find a constructive way forward.”
The threat of action comes as budget airline Ryanair this week announced more than 900 journeys were cancelled in June as a result of air traffic control strikes across France – with around 160,000 people affected by the grounded flights.
French air traffic controllers took part in a series of strikes last month – marking their 60th day of action this year – with a 34-hour walk-out, which ended on 30 June.
Strikes are continuing in other industries, too.
In the UK, schools in England are facing further disruption as teachers stage their second strike this week on Friday.
Junior doctors in England will strike for five consecutive days this month – from 7am on 13 July until 7am on 18 July – in what will be the longest NHS walkout in history.
Disruption to rail journeys is also set to intensify as an overtime ban was extended, as ASLEF general secretary Mick Wheelan vowed to take action for 20 years until an agreement was reached.
The union boss told Sky News: “It is still our intention to find the resolution… we’re going to keep taking action until someone listens to us.”