French Air Traffic Controllers Protest Strike Reform, Cause Major Airport Disruptions
On the morning of November 20, 2023, a sea of yellow vests surged at French airports, signaling a social movement that brought the nation’s air traffic to its knees. A portion of French air traffic controllers, responding to the reform of their right to strike, staged a protest that rippled across major French airports, causing significant disruptions and delays.
The airports of Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées, Pau-Pyrénées, and Saint-Yan were virtually paralyzed, bereft of air traffic services. The strike led to average flight delays of 95 minutes in Toulouse-Blagnac, 77 minutes in Lille-Lesquin, and other significant delays in Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, and Paris airports. The strike originated as a response to a proposed law requiring air traffic controllers to declare their strike intentions 48 hours in advance, mirroring regulations already in place at RATP and SNCF.
Union Opposition and Government Response
Several unions, including UNSA ICNA, USAC CGT, and CFDT, voiced their opposition, fearing the law would further restrict their already limited right to strike. The French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) had advised airlines to reduce flights by 20-25% at Orly, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Marseille. The strike’s effects reverberated beyond France’s borders, impacting European flight operations, especially over Spain.
In response to a surprise strike earlier in the year, the SNCTA union, which did not call for the current strike, supported the reform, citing the unreasonable use of the right to strike. The SNCTA has committed to a ‘truce olympique,’ agreeing not to strike until the end of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in France. Transport Minister, Clément Beaune, has promised to fully implement the reform, which is expected to be enacted in the coming weeks.
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