EU criticizes ATC strike

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – The European Union’s top transport official and Spain’s transport minister have slammed plans for a strike by air traffic controllers (ATC) later this week. ATC workers in France and a handful of other countries have announced they intend to strike today in protest at plans to create a single EU airspace. But the author of the so-called «single sky» proposal, EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, said the strike was misguided and counterproductive. «European airlines still have real difficulties… just now when things are picking up a bit, this is the worst possible time to be organizing a strike,» de Palacio told a news conference after a meeting of EU transport ministers. The main French air traffic management union will strike between 6.00 a.m. and 10.00 local time (4.00 a.m. and 8.00 p.m. GMT) and workers in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Hungary will strike from 10.00 a.m to 2.00 p.m. GMT, the unions said last week. Olympic Airways was already hit by a general strike in Greece yesterday, when it canceled 31 domestic and international flights. Ministers gave a broad welcome to the single sky proposal which would create a block of upper airspace which could be controlled without national border restrictions and harmonize technical standards, with the aim of easing air congestion. Unions fear the measure will lead to ATC agencies having to compete for contracts, and possibly to ultimate privatization. Spain’s transport minister, representing the Spanish presidency of the EU, staunchly defended that plan as a major boost to European airlines. «No one (of the ministers) challenged the need for a single sky, in fact, it is getting more and more necessary every day,» Francisco Alvarez Cascos told reporters. The expansion of usable airspace would allow EU airlines to grow without the need for mega-mergers he said. France, Greece and Portugal all expressed reservations about parts of the plan in the closed-door meeting, diplomats said. A possible stumbling block is how to reconcile a single civil aviation space with the requirements of the military. A little more optimism for Capers in the Atlantic with the volume of available tonnage thinning out. Owners in the area can fix for 160,000 tons of coal cargo at USD 5.25 per ton Richards Bay / Rotterdam.

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