Air traffic controllers threaten to disrupt millions of journeys this summer

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By Harry Kemble
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Tens of thousands of European flights are at risk of being delayed or cancelled this summer with air traffic controllers threatening to walk out in a dispute over pay, rosters and staffing.

Controllers at the European air traffic management body, Eurocontrol, announced that industrial action could take place over a six-month period.  

Eurocontrol told Travel Gossip that walk-outs – if they go ahead – would happen in the Network Manager Operations Centre that oversees air traffic across the European network. It says it plays a ‘pivotal role’ in managing and improving air traffic operations.

The first strike dates are reportedly set to be announced on Monday, according to The Times.

A Eurocontrol spokesperson said: “No specific dates for industrial action have been announced; this was a pre-warning.

“Eurocontrol actively engages 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.”

An industry source told The Times strike action could lead to delays or cancellations of up to 12,600 flights across Europe every day.

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

During the next seven weeks, air traffic is increasing through the peak summer season, with an average of 33,000 flights per day, Eurocontrol said. There will be 186,000 flights from UK airports alone in July and August, carrying more than 33 million passengers, according to data analytics firm Cirium.

The threat of strike action comes just days after Eurocontrol Director-General Raúl Medina said this summer would be ‘challenging’ because there is up to 20% less available airspace due to the war in Ukraine and the military needs.

He told a meeting of the Airports Council International there were fewer air traffic controllers due to recruitment issues and there was an increased threat of strike action.

This year, two UK airports have already had to close temporarily due to a shortage of air traffic control staff.

Read more: When and where flights are most likely to be delayed this summer

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