A festering air traffic control row in Poland is threatening to disrupt travel across in Europe by severing crippling flights in Poland. Massive cancellations could begin as early as May 1st.
Poland Air Traffic Control Battle Will Lead To Flight Cuts
In what European authorities warn may lead to “mass flight cancellations,” Poland has failed to reach a deal with its air traffic controllers over working hours and wages.
Eurocontrol, the European air safety body, says that Poland’s Civil Aviation Authority will dramatically cut the number of flights in Polish airspace absent an agreement.
“As of 1 May, the Polish CAA will implement a flight cancellation programme to significantly reduce the number of flights into/out of Polish airspace.
“It is anticipated that there will be enough controllers for the approach to Warsaw airports to operate … with a total capacity of around 170 flights. The two Warsaw airports were expected to handle on average 510 flights each day in May.”
The contention is over Poland’s proposal to both increase working hours while cutting salaries for air traffic controllers. Citing the need for austerity after two years of drastically-reduced traffic, Poland has proposed 12-hour over 8-hour days and proposed a pay cut. The union wants wages to more than double to over €17,000/month.
In response, Polish air traffic controllers have resigned en masse, with 180 out of 206 controllers working in Warsaw stepping down. 44 have already left while the remaining 136 plan to walk away after April 30th (after the minimum notice period).
The union representing the air traffic controllers noted, “We are fighting for safety and for the return of a culture of work safety and this means an environment of trust, which is built, not bought.”
Even with the cutbacks, the Polish Civil Aviation Authority now says that only flights to/from Poland will be cancelled, not those utilizing Polish airspace.
“Half of these flights will be made in our airspace, half of these flights… will be redirected to neighboring countries, but flights over Poland will not be cancelled.”
It remains to be seen, however, if the 10% of employees who remain will be able to handle the increased workload, even with mandatory flight cancellations. Starting May 1, Warsaw’s Chopin (WAW) and Modlin (WMI) airports will only be operational between 9:30am and 5:00pm.
Ryanair Cries Foul
In a corollary issue, Ryanair is crying foul, complaining bitterly that the mandatory flights cuts protect flag carrier LOT Polish a the expense of budget carriers like Ryanair. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told Reuters:
“The Polish government has first mismanaged the pay dispute with Warsaw air traffic controllers and has now shown complete disregard for Ryanair passengers, choosing to protect non-essential LOT routes… at the expense of key Ryanair routes such as Stockholm and Milan.”
The Irish budget carrier has threatened to litigate.
I expect an 11th hour deal, but this is hardly just bluster from both sides. There’s a huge gap between the two sides and hundreds of air traffic controllers in Poland have already resigned. If a deal is not reached later this week, air travel to and from Poland will be severely impacted starting next month.