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French regional airports close as air traffic controllers strike

Several of France's regional airports closed completely on Friday, while others offered a skeleton service as air traffic controllers went on strike.

French regional airports close as air traffic controllers strike
More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled in France - around half of all scheduled routes - as air traffic controllers strike. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

Around 1,000 flights to and from France were cancelled on Friday as the country’s air traffic controllers went on strike, with their action also causing delays across European airspace.

France’s DGAC civil aviation authority said 16 airports were operating a skeleton service, as were traffic control centres guiding planes overflying French territory at high altitude.

READ ALSO 1,000 flights cancelled: How strikes affect travellers in Europe on Friday

But several regional airports were closed and the DGAC warned of “cancellations and significant delays across the country”.

European air traffic body Eurocontrol said it was seeing “significant disruption”, with delays totalling over 500,000 minutes by 8.30am.

That was more than three times the level across the whole of last Friday when air traffic was moving normally.

Delays of an average 25 minutes per flight were mostly down to the strike, Eurocontrol said.

Around 21,000 planes are expected to pass through Eurocontrol airspace on Friday, down by around one third.

Air France dropped around half its 800 planned services Friday, while Europe’s largest airline Ryanair said it had cancelled 420 flights overflying or landing in France.

The DGAC said it was working with Eurocontrol to divert planes around French airspace.

The SNCTA air traffic controllers’ union said its members are concerned that pay is not keeping up with soaring inflation.

Air traffic controllers are among France’s best-paid civil servants, earning an average of €5,000 per month according to a parliamentary report.

The union also warns that recruitment is falling short, risking gaps in the profession’s ranks.

One-third of existing air traffic controllers are expected to retire between 2029 and 2035, and training new ones takes at least five years.

The SNCTA says the long wait for new recruits means fresh funding is needed for additional training capacity.

It has filed notice of a further strike on September 28th-30th.

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UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

The main union representing French air traffic controllers has cancelled calls for a strike from September 28th to 30th, after "reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry."

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

SNCTA, the main union for air traffic controllers said this week that they had lifted their calls for a three-day strike at the end of September after coming to an agreement with France Ministry of Transport. 

In a statement on its website, the SNCTA said “In view of the concrete progress made on the demands, the SNCTA is lifting its [strike] notice for September 28th, 29th and 30th. The strong mobilisation of September 16th was necessary and instrumental for reaching this conciliation in a very constrained calendar. Thank you to all of you!” 

The French ministry of transport has not yet commented on the above agreement or lifting of the strike.

The International Air Transport Association tweeted their support for the SNCTA’s decision to cancel further industrial action, calling Friday’s strike “unnecessary.”

The association also urged the European Union to implement a “Single European Sky.” This reform, which was put forward almost 20 years ago, has not yet reached fruition. It intends to shift the current system of air traffic organisation away from national borders and toward a “coherent zone” in order to reduce emissions and save both time and money.

The strike on September 16th left over 1,000 flights in France grounded, as well as widespread delays and over 2,400 flight cancellations across Europe. 

The SNCTA mobilised for wage increases due to the rising cost of living, in addition to an acceleration of recruitment in order to anticipate a wave of retirements. After Friday’s action, the union had called for further strikes from September 28th to 30th before reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry. 

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