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French air traffic controllers strike may be put on hold

Following negotiations that went late into the day June 1, the Direction des Services de la Navigation Aérienne (DSNA) – the agency in charge of air traffic control, communication and information for France – announced that an impending strike scheduled for this week might be cancelled, according to air traffic management organization, Eurocontrol.

The news followed closely behind a vote by SNCTA and UNSA, two unions that collectively account for about 70 percent of France’s air traffic controllers, to postpone their notice of strike from June 3 to June 5. The DSNA has scheduled a press conference for 07:30 UTC on June 2 for a full update on the situation.

Before the announcement by the unions, low-cost carrier Ryanair had decided to cancel more than 75 flights for Thursday in anticipation of the previously planned strikes. Other airlines said they were considering similar moves, although none so far have mentioned any impact on longhaul routes, which tend to carry substantial amounts of belly freight.

The European airline lobby group, Airlines for Europe (A4E), warned that, “We are looking at up to 3,000 cancellations, or more, if this hits hard,” according to Air Transport World.

With gas supplies running low as other nationwide strikes by protesters representing other unions have dragged on for almost a week, the French economy is grinding to a halt, prompting freight forwarders to warn of delays or cancellations. Roadblocks established by protesters last week prevented fuel deliveries from reaching gas stations and delivery companies late last week. Local media reported six out of eight oil refineries in the country had either closed or were operating at reduced capacity at some point during the week. In addition, up to 50 percent of fuel stations were reported to be empty by Transport and Logistic France (TLF).

On the political front, the unions calling for the air traffic control strike are calling for the withdrawal of a labor reform bill that makes it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. But, with an unemployment rate of over 10 percent, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has insisted that reform is necessary; so far he has only suggested modifying the bill, rather than redacting it altogether, as the unions wish.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande insisted that he would, “stay the course because I think these are good reforms.”

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