The Single European Sky (SES) initiative remains far from becoming reality with French air traffic controllers going on strike this week and Germany’s air navigation service provider planning a major increase in charges from 2015.

Belgocontrol employees, Belgium’s air traffic control authority, also have warned of possible strike action on or after June 25 to protest what the Christian trade union ACV Transcom calls “the unrealistic savings that the European Commission and the Belgian government wish to impose” under the SES legislation. 

French air traffic controllers members of UNSA–ICNA trade union (Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes-Ingénieurs du Contrôle de la Navigation Aérienne) have called a six-day strike from June 24 until June 29, ahead of the June 30 deadline by when the EU’s member states have to submit the performance plan for the second reference period 2015-2019 (RFP2) .

This performance plan sets binding targets for ANSPs in several areas and contains a traffic forecast, the determined costs for air navigation services as well as required investments. The cost efficiency and performance targets for the RFP2 have been watered down greatly from the initial targets set by the European Commission following intense lobbying, mainly from France and Germany that bowed under pressure and strikes of its unions.

Airlines in Europe maintain that the new targets will not drive any efficiency in the sector and leave charges for air navigation  at the same level as before, if not higher. 

Yet, the weakened targets are still unacceptable for the French ATC unions, which claim that the proposed restructuring threaten the “necessary performance and modernization needed to ensure an efficient air navigation service in France” and lead to a “forced low-cost” ethos in provision of ATC services in the country.

It appears that the French government once again will yield to the strikes, which coincide with the start of the summer holiday season. The largest ATC workers union, the SNCTA, called off its participation to the planned six-day strike for this week after negotiations with the government over the weekend and obtaining concessions from transport minister Frédéric Cuvillier.  Cuvillier has accepted to revise France’s performance plan for 2015-2019 and will set up a round table in the first week of July with the unions to discuss “issues and developments in air traffic control.”

The round table would not be chaired by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which drafted the performance plan for 2015-2019.

According to the SNCTA, Cuvillier also committed to scrapping the planned reduction of employees, a requirement to achieve the cost efficiencies targeted by the European Commission.

Since the SNCTA is not taking part in the strike action, the impact is limited and only 20% of flights have been cancelled by the DGAC on Tuesday.

Still, airlines are furious. Ryanair reiterated its long-standing call for the European Commission to remove the right to strike from Europe’s air traffic controllers “who are once more attempting to blackmail ordinary consumers with strikes.” 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) joined Europe’s largest LCC in condemning the strike action by French air traffic controllers and noted that France is a member of the Single Sky Committee that agreed to SES implementation.“We urge the French government to make a strong intervention to protect travelers from this malicious and unjustified strike action,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Germany also is circumventing strict implementation of the SES legislation. Earlier this month the German Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) said it intends to increase its user charges by €300 million annually in RFP2. The planned charges hike “blatantly contradicts the recent commitment to lower costs made by Germany and the other EU member states in the context of the SES framework,” emphasised the Association of European Airlines.