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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 16:00 GMT
Air strike cripples French flights
Passenger stuck at Orly airport
Passengers who ignored the strike were forced to wait
Strike action has brought French civilian air traffic largely to a standstill in a move critics say could not have come at a worse time for the airline industry.

France's civil aviation authority, DGAC, says it expects about 90% of flights to be affected by the 36-hour strike, which began at 1800 GMT on Wednesday.

For 36 hours France is being turned into a virtual no-fly zone

James Coomarasamy, BBC Paris correspondent

Unions said three out of every five controllers, engineers and technicians responded to the strike call by four unions, forcing some airports to close altogether.

The strikers are protesting against a plan to introduce a single air traffic control system within the European Union by 2005, saying it will endanger passengers.

But the EU accuses them of scaremongering, and the controllers' own biggest trade union is boycotting the strike.

Mass cancellations

Terminals are virtually deserted
The DGAC says it will maintain a minimum service throughout the strike to avoid air traffic chaos, and has drawn up a list of protected flights with carriers.

It predicts that only 475 flights will be made in France on Thursday in contrast to a daily average of 4,380 takeoffs and landings.

Foreign airlines have rushed to cancel or reroute flights to avoid French airspace.

  • British Airways cancelled 93 of its 97 scheduled flights serving France and predicts delays on other flights
  • Lufthansa is running only three flights to France for the duration of the strike compared to its usual 50
  • Crossair is cancelling 52 flights from Wednesday to Friday
  • British Midland cancelled all Thursday flights to France
  • Alitalia cancelled 70% of Thursday flights

One of the striking unions said airports at Perpignan and Beziers had been forced to close altogether, because no-one turned up for work.

However, Air France says it expects its long-haul flights to run almost to schedule, and the US carrier, Delta Airlines, says it will be running three quarters of its transatlantic flights out of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

Aware that the strike was coming, most passengers took the decision to travel by other means, or at other times, rather than wait in departure halls.

Unions split

France's biggest air traffic controllers' union, the SNTCA, has rejected the strike as "irresponsible and inappropriate" but four smaller trade unions say the European Commission is seeking to privatise air traffic control across the 15 EU states with its single airspace policy.

Air France planes grounded in June 2000 during a 24-hour strike by French air traffic controllers
French airports were also hit hard last summer
The plan will involve the elimination of nationally run air traffic control systems.

"This strike is aimed at pushing France to clearly express its opposition to the open skies plans," a spokesman for one of the striking unions said.

The French controllers are state employees and Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said on Wednesday the government supported maintaining their status.

But he called on them to act "responsibly" at a time when "air transport (was) not in good shape".

At the European Commission itself, Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said the strike was misguided as the single-sky concept was not aimed at "reinforcing competition or privatising air traffic control".

The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"The French unions clearly mean to dig in their heels"
See also:

26 Jun 00 | Europe
Strike halts French air traffic
05 Dec 01 | Uefa Cup
Rangers in air scare
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