Ryanair says air traffic control problems will disrupt summer flights

Ryanair has said air traffic control strikes and staff shortages will cause record levels of disruption to holiday flights this summer.

Strikes have already forced the airline to cancel several hundred flights this year in its quieter winter schedules.

According to A4E (Airline For Europe), which represents the 15 biggest European airlines, there was a 53% rise in delays due to air traffic control staffing issues in 2018, forcing its members to cancel more than 5,000 flights last summer.

Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said that represented record disruption, but predicted even worse for 2019.

He said air traffic control staff shortages were now the primary reason for flight delays and would aggravate the effect of strikes: “You don’t feel it so much now, but once you get into the summer I promise you the French air traffic controllers will go on strike in May … that will then be followed by the Italians.

“You could have the Belgians taking industrial action more, and you also have the backdrop that they don’t have enough trained staff.”

Jacobs said passengers would “be feeling that at weekends in the summer” and there was “a cost for customers not getting away for their holidays on time, but also for us in EU261s”.

EU261 is the EU directive that obliges airlines to pay compensation for flight delays of more than three hours.

Ryanair and other low-cost carriers have often disputed the levels of compensation, which can far exceed the fares paid, but Jacobs said it now pledged to meet claims within 10 days.

Ryanair cancelled almost 100 flights to and from Italy last month and 128 flights to Belgium on Wednesday because of air traffic control strikes.

He said Violeta Bulc, the EU commissioner for transport, was working with countries whose operators were “the worst offenders”. Those included Germany, where staff were lost in the relocation of control centres, Italy and regions of Spain, France and Greece, he said.

“It’s not a sexy story but it’s the single biggest thing that airlines are pissed off about … because in summer you’ll end up with thousands of flights cancelled, big EU261 bills and a bad experience for customers.”

Jacobs said he was not expecting any industrial action involving Ryanair staff this summer. The airline cancelled more than 1,000 flights last summer and autumn after pilots and crews across several European countries walked out, but it has signed key agreements with Spanish cabin crew and Belgian pilots in recent weeks.

Unions, however, have since condemned a bonus scheme that could lead to Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, earning an extra €100m (£88m) over the next five years.

Jacobs, a contender to succeed O’Leary in running the main Ryanair airline within the new group structure, defended his boss’s potential windfall. “The share price went up 8% since that was announced so I think you can take that as the reaction of the shareholders,” he said. “They are happy he is staying for another five years … He’s got to deliver targets of doubling share price and profit.”