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Plane passengers across Europe are facing the threat of massive disruption next week because of a strike by air traffic controllers in several countries.
Although British air traffic controllers will not be walking out on Thursday, their counterparts in France, Germany, Spain and Portugal will be.
Initial estimates suggest as many as 850,000 passengers could see their travel plans disrupted, but the damage could be even worse if the French controllers press ahead with plans to extend their action and Italian controllers walk out over the following week.
The disruption will not only have an impact on passengers flight to the countries involved in the strike but also those whose journey would take them across air space where controllers have walked out.
Airlines said they will not be able to calculate the full extent of the disruption they face until early next week.
Aviation ministers across Europe have been urged to intervene by senior industry figures to intervene in the dispute which centres on plans to streamline European air traffic control.
Known as the Single European Sky, it is aimed at ending the current patchwork system which sees flights passed from one country''s air traffic control to another which, airlines say, causes delay, increases carbon emissions and adds to the cost of flying.
Air traffic control unions have voiced fears that the proposals will cost jobs, but this is disputed by the industry which says it would create 328,000 new positions.
Next week''s walkout is the latest in a series of stoppages by air traffic controllers which have punctuated the summer in a long-running dispute over the changes.
Tony Tyler, director general if the International Air Transport Association, Athar Husein Khan, the acting secretary general of the Association of European Airlines, told transport ministers the stoppage would cost airlines nearly £230 million pounds if it goes ahead.
Ryanair also condemned the strikers. “It is grossly unfair that Europe’s passengers may again have their travel plans disrupted through no fault of theirs, or of their airlines.
"It is high time the EU Commission stopped sitting on its hands and removed these air traffic controllers’ right to strike, in the same way as ATC in the US, and many of Europe’s armies and police forces, are prohibited from striking by law, to stop Europe being held to ransom by tiny numbers of air traffic controllers.
"It is simply unacceptable that Europe’s citizens suffer in their thousands as a result of the selfish actions of so few.”
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