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European travel hampered as air traffic controllers start strike

Strikes by air traffic controllers have begun to disrupt travel throughout Europe as unions start two days of walkouts to protest against planned cost cuts and reforms.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG has canceled 42 flights on Wednesday affecting destinations including airports in Italy, France and Switzerland, the company said on its website. Ryanair Holdings Plc, the region’s largest discount carrier, scratched more than 80 flights, it said on its website.

Traffic controllers are protesting against planned changes to rules governing European airspace as governments in the region try to integrate a fractured system to make flying more efficient. The networks handle some 9 million flights each year in a region with about 440 airports. Disruptions will begin on Wednesday and are set to continue through Thursday, traffic control coordinator Eurocontrol said on its website.

Air traffic controllers “are suffering from a performance scheme dominated by a continuing cost reduction and in which safety is not considered to be the first priority,” Francois Ballestero, political secretary at the European Transport Workers’ Federation, said in a statement. “We refuse cuts in staff.”

Unions have asked controllers in Italy, Portugal, France, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus to walk out for parts of their workday on Wednesday, while colleagues in Hungary, Austria, Greece and the Czech and Slovak Republics may follow on Thursday. German and British controllers aren’t participating.

French authorities asked airlines to curtail their flight plans by 20 percent at Paris airports for Jan. 30.

Airlines are advising customers to check the status of their flights before traveling to airports and to prepare for potential delays.

The strike is “unacceptable,” Athar Husain Khan, chief executive officer of the Association of European Airlines, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Not only are these providers seriously delaying the implementation of the environmental friendly Single European Sky project, which is urgently needed to increase the efficiency and capacity of the air traffic system, now they also attack all their clients with unjustified strikes.”

[Bloomberg]

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday Jan 29, 2014 (11:04)  
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