France's DGAC civil aviation authority said 16 airports were operating a skeleton service

Strike of French traffic controllers disrupted European air traffic

French civil aviation authority DGAC says 16 airports are operating in skeleton mode – Copyright AFP/File SAM PANTHAKY

Alexander MARSHAN

Nearly 1,000 flights to and from France were canceled on Friday as the country’s air traffic controllers went on strike, also causing delays in European airspace.

French civil aviation authority DGAC said 16 airports serve essential services as well as traffic control centers that direct aircraft flying over French territory at high altitude.

But several regional airports have been closed and the DGAC has warned of “cancellations and significant delays across the country.”

At Paris’ sprawling Charles de Gaulle airport, the departure board showed only a few canceled flights among morning flights that were mostly operating, with staff in reflective vests guiding passengers.

“I thought that many travelers would come to us, but it’s not, I’m surprised … I believe that most people have been warned,” one worker told AFP, asking not to be named.

But Kristina Sharikadze, who was waiting at the Air France checkout, said “we haven’t received any message, nothing at all… we’re trying to come up with something” to replace the canceled flight home to Georgia.

European air traffic authority Eurocontrol said it was seeing “significant disruptions” with delays totaling more than 500,000 minutes by 8:30 am (0630 GMT).

This is more than three times the level of all of last Friday, when air traffic was normal.

Delays of an average of 25 minutes per flight were mainly due to the strike, Eurocontrol said.

About 21,000 aircraft are expected to pass through Eurocontrol airspace on Friday, about a third less.

On Friday, Air France cut about half of its 800 scheduled flights, while Europe’s largest airline Ryanair said it had canceled 420 flights flying or landing in France.

The DGAC said it is working with Eurocontrol to divert aircraft to French airspace.

The air traffic controllers union SNCTA said its members were concerned that wages were not keeping up with soaring inflation.

Air traffic controllers are among France’s highest paid civil servants, earning an average of €5,000 ($4,985) per month, according to a parliamentary report.

The union also warns that hiring is in short supply, which could lead to gaps in the professional ranks.

A third of current air traffic controllers are expected to retire between 2029 and 2035, with new ones taking at least five years to train.

SNCTA says the long wait for new hires means new funding is needed for additional training opportunities.

He filed a new strike notice on September 28-30.

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