Ryanair has always been highly critical of European policies governing airspace, demanding, for example, a unified set of regulations for the whole continent.
“We need more changes,” said Michael O’Leary, the budget airline’s controversial CEO, in an interview with EL PAÍS last year. “We need competition in all areas, to break the monopoly of air traffic controllers.”
We want to prevent Europe’s consumers from having their travel plans canceled by tiny groups of Air Traffic Control unions” Ryanair’s Keep Europe’s Skies Open website
Now O’Leary wants to put his threat into practice. On Wednesday, the day before French controllers were due to return to the picket lines, the Irish carrier launched an online petition to try to force the European Commission to introduce an EU-wide ban on such stoppages, like the ones already in place in the US and Italy, where controllers’ rights to strike are very limited.
The website Keep Europe’s Skies Open is hoping to collect a million signatures from customers in order to put pressure on Brussels. “We want to prevent Europe’s consumers from having their travel plans and holidays canceled by tiny groups of Air Traffic Control unions going on strike and closing the skies over Europe,” says the low-cost airline.
Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs told the Financial Times that the situation was “unacceptable,” adding that controllers used “strikes as a first weapon rather than a last resort.”
The move comes as Spanish air traffic controllers this week announced a further set of partial strikes on July 11, 12, 25 and 26 to follow last month’s stoppages, which were called to protest disciplinary action against 61 controllers over their involvement in a wildcat stoppage that resulted in the complete closure of Spanish airspace in 2010.
Ryanair says that since 2009, French controllers have clocked up a total of 39 days of strikes. The last two days of stoppages, which took place in April of this year to protest a raise in the retirement age and a decline in working conditions, forced the cancellation of 3,600 flights. Similar figures could be repeated during the strikes called for Thursday and Friday.
If the EC fails to meet its demand for a ban on strikes, Ryanair also has an alternative: to allow controllers from other countries to take charge of air traffic outside their borders.
The petition, which only asks for the name, surname and the country of signers, can be signed as many times as a person wants, and users do not even need to supply a real country.