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Flight cancellations and delays predicted as French air traffic controllers vote to strike next week

A passenger walks past vacant check-in desks at Paris Orly airport, France, during a strike by French air traffic controllers
A passenger walks past vacant check-in desks at Paris Orly airport, France, during a strike by French air traffic controllers Copyright AP Photo/Jacques Brinon
Copyright AP Photo/Jacques Brinon
By Harriet Reuter Hapgood
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Last time Paris Orly air traffic control shut down, 70 per cent of flights were cancelled: now there’s a new strike.

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For the past 18 months, French air travel has been dogged by strikes so chaotic and disruptive that one strike day was dubbed by the press a “journée noir” (black day) for the nation’s airports

Now a new wave of strikes is set to hit the sector, with walkouts announced for next week by UNSA-ICNA, the union for air traffic controllers at Paris Orly airport. The last strike by UNSA-ICNA in May saw 70 per cent of inbound/outbound Orly flights cancelled.

Which French flights will be affected?

The shutdown covers 11-13 June for flights in and out of Paris Orly - the second-largest Parisian airport after Paris-Charles de Gaulle in Roissy. Other French airports are unaffected.

It’s not yet known whether the strike action will also affect ‘overflights’ - flights that do not take off or land in France, but go over French airspace: more than 2.5 million flights pass through each year. 

Travellers planning to fly to or from Paris Orly or through France next week should check for regular updates from their airline.

An empty baggage drop-off desk at Paris Orly airport, France.
An empty baggage drop-off desk at Paris Orly airport, France.Francois Mori/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.

Why are so many air traffic control strikes affecting Paris Orly airport?

Airport workers have been taking regular industrial action against a new ‘48-hour law, which governs how much notice they must give managers before they can strike. This rule is already in place for employees of SNCF national railways and Paris public transport operator RATP, but has sparked repeated protests from air traffic control unions. 

The new regulations also include an expansion of responsibilities, with workers seeking additional pay and a recruitment drive to the profession. Air traffic controllers at Paris Orly are also concerned about Air France moving its flight operations away to Paris-Charles de Gaulle and a sense that they’re being deprioritised by the French civil aviation authority DGAC. 

“Orly is clearly relegated to second place by the DGAC compared to the other Paris airport,” an anonymous UNSA-ICNA source tells the AFP.

What is the UNSA-ICNA union?

The UNSA-ICNA union, representing air traffic controllers, is the second-largest such union in France. The majority union is SNCTA, which signed an agreement with the DGAC in May on salary and other measures supporting the 48-hour law.

The SNCTA cancelled its last wave of strikes and has now separated itself from the latest action at Paris Orly, with a press release stressing that the travel disruptions have come from “minority” unions.

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