Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary says air control strikes will have a devastating effect on the airline industry in Europe, adding that the more than 1,000 flight cancellations in May were "almost all due to ATC staff shortages and strikes." Last year, only 43 cancellations were registered in the same month. Easyjet also had a record 974 flight cancellations last month, compared to 117 in May 2017.
The French ATC strike, which is set to take place again this weekend, will lead to hundreds of additional cancellations. All flights over France, regardless of where they departed from, will be affected. There are also ATC staff shortages in the UK and Germany, among other countries, that are being "covered up by 'weather delays' or 'capacity restrictions,'" according to O'Leary.
"We have been told by the French authorities that we have to cancel 150 flights, many of which don't even touch France because the air traffic controllers there are going on strike this Saturday and Sunday,” he added. "It's unacceptable, and as Willie Walsh [chief executive of rival International Airlines Group] said last month, it's getting worse. The real fear is that when passengers come to take their holidays in July and August, they will suffer flight cancellations, long delays or disruptions because of inadequate staffing in air control, particularly at weekends."
A spokesperson for UK ATC provider Nats has disputed O'Leary's claims, stating that staffing shortages have accounted for less than 3% of Ryanair flight cancellations in the UK in 2018. Adding, that there have been "significant weather" problems in southern England in April and May, including thunderstorms that have closed off a significant amount of airspace. "This inevitably results in delays - in effect, it is very similar to the closure of main roads," she said.
O’Leary has called upon the EU commission to enact measures to avoid the cancellation of flights over countries with ATC strikes.
According to Fiona Macrae from Travel Insurance Explained, a consumer awareness organization, “The European Union (EU) states that EU airlines must provide alternative flights or a refund if a flight is delayed or canceled, however, this may not be the case with an Air Traffic Control Strike. This is due to it being classed as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ and not something the airline can avoid. Those who bought a travel insurance policy before the strikes were announced may be able to claim for trip disruption – this will entitle them to compensation for every set block of time they are delayed up to a certain amount.”
Despite the cancellations, Ryanair has still registered an increase in passengers and profits. The number of travelers flying with the airline reached 12.5 million last month, with a plane capacity of 96 percent. Profits also increased to £1.3 billion in spite of ATC strikes.