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Air traffic controller strike to disrupt flights from French airports

School holidays will likely be disrupted this week as a strike by air traffic controllers gets underway at French airports, the civil aviation authority has said. Five air traffic unions have called for a strike to protest Europe’s single sky policy.


AFP - Travellers in Europe faced more misery on Tuesday as French air traffic controllers launched a five-day strike and British and German airlines sought to head off threats of industrial action.

A quarter of flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle, a major international hub, were cancelled, along with around half out of Paris Orly, which mainly serves domestic routes and the French overseas territories.

The strike also disrupted flights due to pass through French air space from other hubs, including Amsterdam, Brussels and Geneva, airlines and authorities said. Some French provincial airports were closed.

Queues built up at Orly, but most passengers appeared resigned as flights flashed up "cancelled" on information screens. Air France vowed to fly all long-haul services during the strike, to last until Saturday morning.

Dutch carrier KLM reported major delays on southbound flights from another of Europe's biggest airports, Amsterdam-Schiphol. Swiss International Air and Lufthansa also reported delays on flights due to overfly France.

"I was supposed to leave at 8:20 am for Barcelona but my flight is cancelled," said Bruno Lacroix, 49, who turned up to Orly early but was told to come back and get a flight in the evening.

"I'm crossing my fingers but I have no guarantee for the return flight on Friday."

A spokeswoman for Europe's busiest airport, London Heathrow, said there was "no major impact on our operations" though some airlines were "consolidating flights," bundling passengers onto fewer departures.

Four French unions called Tuesday's strike in order to protest against the planned merger of the Belgian, Dutch, French, German, Luxembourg and Swiss air traffic control networks.

More widespread air chaos was prevented, or at least postponed, late on Monday, when German flag-carrier Lufthansa persuaded pilots to return to negotiations after only one day of a planned four-day stoppage.

Lufthansa, which normally offers 1,800 flights daily, had scrubbed 800 as a preventive measure ahead of the strike. This special schedule was also in force on Tuesday.

Lufthansa, Europe's biggest airline in terms of passenger numbers, said Tuesday it hoped to get services running normally by the end of the week as talks with unions started.

"Our goal is to have the network running at 100 percent by Friday at the latest," airline spokesman Klaus Walther told ZDF television.

The Cockpit union is pressing for a 6.4-percent pay raise but its main demand is that pilots not lose their jobs when Lufthansa begins to operate more flights using cheaper foreign affiliates.

British Airways meanwhile faced the threat of a crippling protest after cabin crew voted by more than 80 percent in favour of new strike action in a long, bitter dispute over working conditions and a planned pay freeze.

European airlines have been fighting for survival as they battle with the low-cost airlines poaching customers, soaring fuel costs and the worst global recession in decades.

French air traffic controllers meanwhile fear the merger plans will end their protected role as French state employees, but the French aviation authority DGAC has insisted that its status will not be changed.

France's national audit office gave a severe assessment of the air traffic control sector last month. It estimated controllers get 30 weeks' holiday a year, winning generous allowances because bosses fear disputes with them.

The report hinted that the threat of a strike in the security-sensitive sector made bosses reluctant to crack down on the excessive leave system, which is defended by labour unions.

Howard Wheeldon, an analyst at BGC Partners financial group in London, said Tuesday's strike was a symptom of "a bad industrial relations situation that seems evenly spread across Europe."



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