Summer flights to Europe under threat as air controllers plan strikes

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In a potential blow to summer travel plans, European air traffic controllers have issued a strike threat that could impact thousands of flights across the continent.

Talks between workers at Eurocontrol, the organisation responsible for managing European airspace, have broken down, prompting concerns over disrupted services.

According to reports, the affected dates for possible strike action may be announced as early as Monday, potentially leaving travellers stranded.

Eurocontrol’s workers are demanding better pay and more favourable work schedules, leading to fears of widespread flight delays and cancellations.

Sources quoted in The Times suggest that the strike could affect a staggering 12,600 flights per day throughout Europe. Such a significant disruption could cause significant inconvenience for passengers during the busy summer travel season.

Read more: Ryanair passengers face chaos as pilots threaten strike over peak holiday season

It comes after warnings issued to holidaymakers about a difficult summer ahead, with air traffic control systems struggling to cope with the increasing demand.

Eurocontrol had previously highlighted the potential for overloaded airspace in key regions such as Athens, Budapest, Reims, and Marseille. Similar concerns were raised for peak days, particularly Fridays and weekends, in cities like London, Brussels, Barcelona, Zagreb, Nicosia, and Warsaw.

Eurocontrol’s latest forecast predicts a significant increase in the number of flights during the July to mid-August period, with approximately 33,000 flights expected daily.

This represents a growth of over 7 per cent compared to the same period last year, reflecting a gradual recovery from the pandemic-induced travel restrictions. Fridays, in particular, are anticipated to experience even higher numbers, although they still fall short of pre-pandemic levels.

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The Union Syndicale Bruxelles (USB), the union representing EU civil servants, has shared a letter with The Times, stating that strike action is the only option available to them. The USB’s decision adds to the mounting concerns surrounding air travel disruptions in Europe.

They wrote: “As difficult as industrial action is on everyone, we see no other path forward than to inform you of our decision to progress [with strikes].

“Our case is lawful, strong and fair, and in the interest of the agency, the network manager, our stakeholders (operational and member states), the flying public at large and ourselves as loyal employees of the agency.”

In an attempt to alleviate fears, Raúl Medina, Director General of Eurocontrol, recently addressed the Airports Council International General Assembly in Barcelona. Medina assured industry professionals that preparations were in place to handle potential challenges and minimise disruptions, stressing that lessons had been learned from the previous year’s delays and disturbances.

He said: “This summer in Europe is challenging as we have less available airspace because of the war in Ukraine and the military needs. To be successful over the summer, we need everyone to play their part.”

While efforts are being made to mitigate the impact of any potential strike, the threat remains, leaving travellers anxious about the possibility of flight cancellations or long delays. Stay tuned for further updates on this developing story as the situation unfolds.

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