Ryanair has hit out at France’s striking air traffic controllers for repeatedly holding passengers to ransom by going on strike "every few months".
After having to cancel over 100 flights on Tuesday Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs told The Local that it is time the European Commission took action to prevent the French strikers causing repeated misery for his company's passengers.
“French air traffic controllers are going on strike every single year. It’s time to say enough is enough,” Jacobs, the company’s chief marketing officer told The Local.
“We are fed up, our customers are fed up and everyone around Europe is fed up. We are calling on the EU commission to be braver and follow the example of the US and take away air traffic controllers’ right to strike across Europe.
“The controllers play a vital role and every summer they are holding passengers to ransom,” Jacobs said. “People have worked hard all year and they see their only holiday affected by this strike. That’s not fair.
“People’s right to travel is a higher priority than the controllers' right to strike. We need to respect that this is causing travel disruption to a lot of people. Allowing such a small group such control over others is unfair,” he added.
Ryanair say that if the EU Commission is against taking away the right to strike, then an alternative solution would be to allow air traffic controllers in neighbouring countries, such as the UK or Germany to “run the skies over France”, during a strike.
“That would be entirely possible and we think it should be looked at,” said Jacobs.
Tuesday’s industrial action led to Ryanair cancelling 96 flights. Easyjet said it was forced to scrap 28 flights and British Airways said eight of its own services were affected.
For their part air traffic controllers say they are protesting against what they say is a lack of sufficient funding allocated for their sector, which they say is in dire need of modernisation.
But Ryanair has little time to hear such complaints from French staff.
“Every now and then air traffic controllers in other European countries go on strike, but that pales into insignificance when you compare it the number of times the French have gone on strike in the past decade,” Jacobs said.
“Virtually everyone in Europe has been impacted upon at some point in their travelling life,” he said. “The French have a different list of complaints every single year. Next summer they will go on strike and there’ll be some other reason.”
Jacobs does not expect the strike to go the full six-days and has called on all parties involved to get round the table and talk.
Not all French air traffic controllers are on strike this week, with only the UNSA-ICNA union going ahead with the industrial action.
The SNCTA trade union pulled out of the strike at the last minute after agreeing several concessions with the government.
Nevertheless both French unions say there is an urgent need for their systems to be upgraded and for resources to be made available.
There are mounting concerns that French air navigation tools are becoming dangerously obsolete.
The system used in the country to enhance radar monitoring and forseparation of air traffic dates back to the 1980s, and is due to be replaced by a new system.
According to the SNCTA, for instance, all radar screens in theAix-en-Provence control centre in southern France were recently "urgently" changed after around 20 screens suddenly went blank over the space of 18 months.
The strike comes ahead of a June 30 deadline for France to present its budget plans for the sector over the next five years to Brussels.
The strikers are protesting against planned cuts between 2015 and 2019 that they say will threaten the "necessary performance and modernisation needed to ensure an efficient air navigation service in France."
No one from the UNSA-ICNA union had responded to The Local’s request for a comment by the time of publication.
Where do you stand? Do French air traffic controllers have an important point to make or should they lose their right to strike?