Social dialogue key to solving European strikes

People travelling through European airspace suffered from strike-related disruption equivalent to more than a full year since 2003, according to a new best practice report issued by Brussels.

In the staff working document Practices favouring Air Traffic Management Service Continuity, the European Commission blamed the current number of industrial spats largely on the uneven level of social dialogue in member states, the monopoly situation within the industry and the network dimension of the ATM industry.

“The impact of these strikes on aviation and the economy as a whole may be considerable even though they occur in only a few member states,” it said.

This is the first time the Commission has dealt systematically with the impact of strikes in ATM and outlines measures that could help mitigate the disruption caused.

It relies heavily on a study commissioned last year to which airlines, air navigation services providers (ANSP), the network manager, professional staff organisations and trade unions were invited to contribute. The professional staff organisations and trade unions chose not to contribute.

The report by Ricardo & York Aviation showed that from 2004 to 2016, a total of 375 days of strikes have been recorded in 17 European Union states which meant that over a 13-year aggregate period, European airspace suffered from disruptions for over a full year. Over that period, strikes generated more than 9.2 million minutes of delays.

“The impact of strikes in terms of delays has been very burdensome especially in 2010 but also more recently in 2013, 2014 and 2016. In 2016 in the EU, ATM strikes caused 1,06 million minutes of delay, corresponding to around 14 per cent of all en-route delays for 2016. By way of comparison, weather conditions caused 19 per cent of all en-route delays, whereas other causes such as capacity/staffing of air traffic controllers generated 57 per cent and implementation of ATM infrastructure caused 9 per cent of such delays.”

The estimated cost for airlines overall between 2004 and 2016, was more than €5.3 due to strikes throughout 23 EU countries. This was calculated by:

  • 1 minute of delay is €110.50 (includes reactionary delay and passenger value of time cost);
  • the cost of a cancelled flight is estimated at €17,600; and
  • the cost of an additional nautical mile flown is €10.60.

The cause of traffic disruption for which the Single European Sky is the least equipped to react is strike action.

Stressing the importance of social dialogue, the Commission said the document provides an overview of the legal position and identifies existing practices supporting ATM service continuity, adding “…this staff working document is in no way intended to question the legitimacy of the right to strike”.

“We need to keep our feet on the ground because there is still a long way to go to have these proposals implemented,” said Thomas Reynaert of European airline industry group A4E. “There are some important proposals by the Commission such as unions providing early notification of strikes; staff members to provide individual notification of their participation to industrial action and the protection of overflights of member states affected by strikes ensuring 100 per cent continuity of service. Member States also need to swiftly adopt the Single European Sky proposals to enable European passengers to fully benefit from seamless air travel across Europe.”

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