Airlines infuriated by spanish airspace closure

The Association of European Airlines, which brings together 35 of Europes most important network carriers, has roundly condemned the circumstances which caused the paralysis of air traffic within, to and from Spain last week, as air traffic controllers walked off the job without warning, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded over a busy holiday period.
For a second time this year, we have seen vast numbers of airline passengers prevented, by means entirely beyond the airlines control, from making their intended journey, said AEA Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus. Governments used inappropriate procedures to deal with the volcanic eruptions in April/May; this latest disruption is entirely man-made, a calculated act.

The fact that the Spanish government had to react in the way it did to re-establish a functioning infrastructure in Spain, is symptomatic for the need for structural reform, he said. In some parts of European Air Traffic Control, inefficiency is a fact and the situation must be swiftly addressed.   Passengers are entitled to mobility, and airlines are seeking to provide for safe, affordable and environmentally-friendly service.  But when passengers are stranded, airlines are blamed.  Enough is enough.  It is high time the problems were resolved.  The Spanish action demonstrates both the pressing need for an overhaul of the European ATC system, and the disproportionate power of a relatively small number of individuals to block the whole system.

Enduring images of the weekend are of stranded passengers, their travel plans in chaos, said the AEA Secretary General.  "No one questions the important role of air traffic controllers, but they should not be able to cripple an economy.  Airlines and their customers need definitive assurances that governments will ensure that the right to mobility will no longer be undermined.  Airlines cannot underwrite the whole spectrum of damage caused by events outside their control.  It is high time regulators clarified the circumstances under which airlines and their customers can claim compensation from those who create the problems.

Mr. Schulte-Strathaus added:  "To add insult to injury,  the bill for paying for the use of infrastructure is €3.3 billion too high each year".  The Secretary General reiterated that  if European aviation is to be able to compete in future in the global marketplace, it needs a Single European Sky programme, which will rationalize European airspace, and which will be a driver for efficiency, with significant potential benefits for the airlines, their customers and the environment.
David Henderson


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