France: Hundreds of flights canceled due to traffic controllers’ strike


PARIS – Hundreds of flights in France were canceled and smaller airports shut down Wednesday because of a strike by air traffic controllers worried about a plan to unify control of European air space.

Half of flights in and out of Paris’ Orly Airport and 10 percent of those out of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle were called off, according to the French civil aviation authority, the DGAC. The strike affected many domestic routes, but national carrier Air France said its long-haul international flights were unperturbed.

Some 30 percent of air traffic controllers took part, the DGAC said in a statement — less than originally expected, after two unions dropped out of the action.

The strike, which began Tuesday night, was to end between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Thursday (0300-0500 GMT), according to the aviation authority. Air France said it was returning to a normal flight schedule Thursday.

Air traffic controllers fear that the Single European Sky project, meant to ensure greater efficiency across European air borders and deal with projected traffic increases, could cost jobs. Under the plan, the 27 separate air traffic systems now operating in the European Union would be reduced to nine hubs.

Sophie Rufin, of Meudon, outside Paris, was among the unhappy travelers facing canceled flights at Orly. She said she booked her vacation flight six months ago.

“Once again, we feel like the hostages of people whose status is full of privileges and who bother us quite a lot during our holidays,” she said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

The head of the CFDT union, Francois Chereque, said now is not the moment for a strike, just as many French families are heading on vacation, and that unions should save their energy for a protests in September against a broad pension reform that includes raising the retirement age.

French people “are tired, they lived through a difficult year. It’s the crisis. I think they deserve their vacations,” he said on RTL radio.

The strike affected several regional airports, and those in Brest on the Atlantic and Nancy-Metz in the northeast were among those closed because of the protest.