easyJet, Wizzair, Ryanair and the International Airlines Group say the strikes restrict the fundamental principle of freedom of movement within the EU.
The airlines believe France is breaking EU law by not enabling flights over the country during strikes. Passengers on overflights are being denied their fundamental freedom to travel between member states not affected by strike action, they argue.
French ATC strikes have increased by 300% on 2017. Last month, the French Senate confirmed that France alone is responsible for 33% of flight delays in Europe and said that the right to strike has to be balanced against the obligation to provide public service.
easyJet has its headquarters at London luton and the airport is also the Uk base for fellow low-cost airline Wizz Air. easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “We fully respect the right to strike and have been in constructive dialogue with the EU and the French government to address the issue of ATC strikes.
“Unfortunately, our passengers have felt little progress so far, which is why we felt it is necessary to take this next step – particularly given the sustained industrial action this year which has totalled 29 days to date.”
According to Eurocontrol, more than 16,000 flights had been delayed by June this year due to ATC strikes, affecting more than two million passengers.
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh said: “The right to strike needs to be balanced against freedom of movement. It’s not only customers flying in and out of France who are affected during French ATC strikes. Passengers on routes that overfly France, especially the large airspace that covers Marseille and the Mediterranean, are also subject to delays and massive disruptions.
“This affects all airlines but has a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.”
The complaints state that there is a legal precedent to this case. In 1997, the Spanish complained to the European Commission after they suffered for many years when French farmers prevented their fruit and vegetable exports into the EU. The European Court ruled against France as the French authorities didn’t address the farmers’ actions and failed to ensure the free movement of goods.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said the disruption was “unacceptable”. He called on European governments and the European Commission t ensure that air traffic control operations across Europe are fully staffed to cope with the disruption caused by the strikes.
“Europe’s ATC providers are reaching the point of meltdown with hundreds of flights being cancelled and delayed daily either because of ATC strikes or because Europe’s ATC don’t have enough staff,”he added.
His counterpart at Wizz Air, József Váradi, said: “The failure of French air traffic control authorities to ensure a continued and adequate service has already caused massive disruption to the travel plans of thousands of passengers across Europe, with airlines left to pick up the pieces.
“Addressing this issue must be a priority for the European authorities to ensure European citizens and businesses are no longer held hostage to national industrial relations issues.”
The European Commission said last year that since 2005 there have been around 357 ATC strikes in Europe.