European controllers have scrapped plans for a strike on October 10 to protest draft amendments to Single European Sky (SES) regulations that would expedite the restructuring of the continent’s ATC network. The Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Coordination (ATCEUC) had earlier warned that “strong delays and some (flight) cancellations” could occur on that day, but then cancelled the strike late on October 4 after agreeing to hold new talks on Monday with European Union officials.
The trade unions association, which claims to represent more than 14,000 controllers across Europe, contests reforms the European Commission announced in June to expedite the lagging SES effort, which is comparable to NextGen in the U.S. Speaking to transport ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, on September 16, Siim Kallas, European Union transport commissioner, defended the reforms and said EU member states must act with urgency to address rising air travel demand that will severely strain system capacity.
Under draft “SES2+” legislation, the EC proposes “full organizational and budgetary separation” of national authorities and the ATC organizations they oversee. In the future, it said, “airlines will have a new role in signing off [ATC] investment plans to ensure they are better focused on meeting customer needs.” The commission wants to strengthen performance targets for safety, cost-efficiency, capacity and environmental impact by making them more transparent and enforceable; make available new business opportunities for companies to provide meteorology, aeronautical information and communications, navigation and surveillance services by opening them to competitive bidding; and enable companies to form industrial partnerships within the framework of regional entities known as functional airspace blocks (FABs). Eurocontrol’s role as the centralized “network manager” would be strengthened.
In a press release, the trade unions association said it “rejects the assumptions and arguments presented by Mr. Kallas because they are not supported by any conclusive studies. He warns of a looming disaster if SES2+ is not approved, predicting chaos and collapse of the European aviation system. Perhaps the Commissioner forgets that air traffic increased more than 80 percent between 1990 and 2010, while delays decreased by 45 percent in the same period, clearly showing the (air traffic management) industry’s ability to cope accordingly, relying exclusively on its own expertise, hard work, collaboration and achievable targets.”
ATCEUC also issued a “notice to travelers” warning of “strong delays and some cancellations” across Europe on October 10, particularly in Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. The job action will also affect the airspace over Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and northwest Germany managed by Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Center.
The Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (Canso), which represents air navigation service providers, said it is “extremely concerned” by the ATCEUC’s planned job action when negotiations are continuing over the EC’s proposed reforms. “This action is disproportionate and unnecessary. It will disrupt flights and have a severe impact on thousands of innocent travellers and businesses across Europe,” said Jeff Poole, Canso director general. “We urge the representatives of air traffic controllers to continue their talks with the Commission and other interested parties. We want them at the table, not out on strike.”