Europe Hit by First ATC Strikes of the Year

 - January 11, 2019, 10:52 AM

A nationwide strike by Italy’s air traffic controllers is reinforcing calls by European airlines to speed up the reform of the bloc’s air traffic management system and put measures in place to ensure an improved continuity of service for passengers. “There is a clear increase in the frequency and duration of ATC strikes in Europe, with 30 days of strike in 2018 compared with 24 days in 2017,” said Airlines for Europe (A4E) managing director Thomas Reynaert. “This is a trend which cannot continue; we urge national and EU politicians to address the situation immediately. European aviation’s reputation is at stake.”  

Europe’s main airline lobbying group wants air navigation service providers (ANSP) and their owners—which, in most cases, are national governments—to invest in technology, processes, and human resources to make Europe’s overall air traffic management system capable of coping with ever-increasing traffic. A4E also wants a follow-up on its suggestions on how to minimize ATC-strike-related disruptions, including a mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for employees who want to strike and protection of overflights, a request already in force in Italy.

The UNICA, UGL-TA, and Assivolo Quadri trade unions called Friday’s four-hour strike, which started at 1 p.m. local time. The staff of ATC centers across Italy, including Rome, Milan, and Brindisi joined the walk-out, the Italian Transport Ministry said. The work stoppage affected mainly domestic and intra-European flights to and from Italy; the strike action does not affect overflying traffic and inbound intercontinental flights. One hour into the strike, cumulative delays across Europe’s network reached 19,471 minutes and ATC industrial action caused 48 percent of the delay, according to Eurocontrol’s network operations portal.

Last year proved a particularly bad year for flight delays in Europe. While air traffic increased by 3.8 percent to a record of 11,011,434 flights, with daily average traffic of 30,168 flights, en route delays saw a 105 percent hike over 2017 across the network, to a total of 19.1 million minutes. En route delay per flight in 2018 averaged 1.73 minutes—or more than triple the EU-wide performance target 0.5 minutes—and the delay per delayed flight averaged 19 minutes.

ATC capacity and staffing issues caused 60.4 percent of en route delays, while weather issues generated 25.3 percent of the delays and ATC strikes and other disruptive events 14.3 percent, Eurocontrol data showed.