International Airlines Group, Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air have submitted complaints to the European Commission against France as its air traffic controllers’ strikes restrict the fundamental principle of freedom of movement within the EU.
The airlines are not questioning the right to strike but believe France is breaking EU law by not enabling flights over the country during strikes.
Passengers on overflights are being denied their fundamental freedom to travel between member states not affected by strike action.
So far this year, French air traffic control strikes have increased by 300 per cent versus 2017.
Last month, the French senate confirmed that France alone is responsible for 33 per cent of flight delays in Europe.
The senate also argued that the right to strike has to be balanced against the obligation to provide public service.
Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “The right to strike needs to be balanced against freedom of movement.
“It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected during French air traffic control strikes.
“Passengers on routes that overfly France, especially the large airspace that covers Marseille and the Mediterranean, are also subject to delays and massive disruptions.
“This affects all airlines but has a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.”
IAG is the owner of Spain-based Iberia.
The complaints state that there is a legal precedent to this case. I
In 1997, the Spanish complained to the European Commission after they suffered for many years when French farmers prevented their fruit and vegetable exports into the EU.
The European Court ruled against France as the French authorities didn’t address the farmers’ actions and failed to ensure the free movement of goods.
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive, said: “Europe’s air traffic control providers are reaching the point of meltdown with hundreds of flights being cancelled and delayed daily either because of air traffic control strikes or because Europe’s air traffic controllers don’t have enough staff.
“When Greece and Italy have air traffic control strikes, overflights continue as normal.
“Why won’t France do the same?
“Air traffic controller providers (especially in Germany and the UK) are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as “capacity restrictions” when the truth is they are not rostering enough air traffic controllers to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.
“These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on Europe’s governments and the EU Commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that air traffic control providers are fully staffed and that overflights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.”
According to Eurocontrol, more than 16,000 flights had been delayed by June this year due to air traffic control strikes, affecting more than two million passengers.