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French Air Traffic Controllers Walk Out Of Work Again

France's ATC systems are also set to undergo an upgrade in early 2024, which is expected to cancel dozens of flights.

An Air France A321 (Photo: Air France)

In response to the new rules passed on Nov. 15 in France, France’s air traffic controllers launched an industrial action on Nov. 20. Under the new law, the air traffic controllers need to sound the alarm to their employers before starting a strike at least 48 hours in advance. Ironically, the laws have paved the way for the walkout. The controllers worried the new rules could threaten the right to strike.

The walkout has resulted in 25% of flights to and from Paris’ Orly Airport and Toulouse’s Blagnac being canceled, along with about 20% of Bordeaux’s Merignac and Marseille Provence being axed as well. Passengers have experienced an estimated one-hour delay as a result.

“Despite our preventative measures, passengers should still expect delays,” the DGAC, France’s Civil Aviation Authority, said.

“Industrial action by French Air Traffic Control staff means we’ve had to make some adjustments to our short-haul schedule,” British Airways said in a statement.

Jet2 and easyJet have warned their passengers could face the potential disruptions. Ryanair has issued a statement to its passengers that it could cancel several flights. The affected passengers could change their flights or apply for a full refund.

Ryanair has called upon the European Union Commission to take immediate action to protect overflights during the strike. The low-cost airline hasn’t shied away from venting its anger.

“It is completely unacceptable that there have been 65 days of ATC strikes this year – 13 times more than in all of 2022,” a spokesperson for Ryanair said.

Ryanair goes further in launching a campaign for the protection of overflights during strikes, more than two million signatures have been received. The no-frills carrier said 6,500 flights were forced to cancel due to the strike in France in 2023.

According to the French Senate, French air traffic controllers recorded 249 strike days from 2005 to 2016, compared with 44 in Greece and 34 in Italy.

A System Upgrade Before the Summer Olympics

The latest industrial action was undertaken by three unions, UNSA-ICNA, the USAC-CGT, and the CFDT. SNCTA, the air traffic controllers’ largest union, is in favor of the new law and said the walkout will suspend during the Summer Olympics.

According to French media, the new laws allowed the government to minimize disruptions during a strike and not limit the right to strike.

In the meantime, passengers could face a potential disruption in 2024. The air traffic control system in France will be upgraded. Airlines have been advised to scale down flights at Charles de Gaulle, Orly, and other airports. Thousands of flights are expected to be canceled between Jan. 9 and Feb. 14.  Air France confirmed 4,200 flights have been canceled. The upgrade cost an estimated one billion euros ($1.1 billion); airports are still using the same systems from the 1970s.

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