Airlines across Europe are bracing for another summer of flight disruption, as French air traffic controllers prepare to strike for the first time this summer later today and operators face restrictions related to ATC capacity issues.
The 35h walkout in France, part of widespread strike action across the country, is set to start at 19:00 local time today and end at 05:00 on 10 May.
Network manager Eurocontrol says it is hard to predict disruptions, but has asked operators to reduce flight programmes by 30% at Paris Orly, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse airports.
Among those to be hit is UK low-cost carrier EasyJet, which says around 65% of its flights pass through French airspace.
Airlines have warned repeatedly that passengers should expect disruption this summer as a result of expected strikes, staff shortages and congestion as Europe's skies struggle to keep up with growing travel demand.
Eurocontrol says that ATC staffing issues, weather, an increase in traffic and a lack of capacity had resulted in 25.6 million minutes of air traffic flow management (ATFM) delay in 2018. With each minute costing users around €70, that resulted in an additional cost of €1.7 billion ($1.9 billion) for airspace users.
This year, Eurocontrol warns, "could be just as bad, as the overall network capacity is less than it was in 2018".
The network manager has therefore started a mitigation plan, agreed with national service providers and airspace users, which aims to remove more than 1,000 flights a day from the system. "This will entail an additional cost for airspace users as they will not be able to fly their preferred routes/vertical profiles – but it will be a sacrifice in a good cause: helping to control ATFM delay," Eurocontrol says.
Slovenian carrier Adria Airways said on 7 May that delays were inevitable and that a demanding period was approaching..
"In our daily operations we are already facing the first consequences of restrictions of European airspace, and there will be significantly more of them during the summer," states Adria's chief operating officer Tadej Notersberg.