France air strike: Ryanair, EasyJet forced to cancel Paris flights

Airlines were forced to cancel dozens of flights to and from Paris's main airports and southern France Tuesday as air traffic controllers kicked off a six-day strike to outrage.

The work stoppage comes at the height of the tourist season in a nation that attracts more foreign visitors than any other country, and follows a rail protest that affected services abroad and domestically and is still continuing in some areas.

The country's civil aviation watchdog said about one in five flights going to and from several big cities in southern France, or taking off from Paris to the south, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, were cancelled and passengers were experiencing delays on other services.

The watchdog said some 20 per cent of flights to and from the same airports would also be cancelled Wednesday as the strike was due to continue until Sunday, warning passengers not to go to the airport "without having been guaranteed that their flight is maintained".

Ryanair, which was forced to cancel 96 flights Tuesday, slammed the strike and "called on the EU Commission to remove the right to strike from Europe's air traffic controllers, who are once more attempting to blackmail ordinary consumers with strikes."

EasyJet cancelled 28 flights and British Airways said eight flights had been affected.

Most of Air France's flights were unaffected, with only 10 per cent of its short and medium-haul journeys cancelled.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) airlines group also condemned the strike action.

"Unions bent on stopping progress are putting at risk the hard-earned vacations of millions of travellers, and from the public's perspective, the timing of the strike could even be regarded as malicious," the group's head Tony Tyler said in a statement.

"In addition to vacationers, businesspeople undertaking important trips and those awaiting urgent shipments will all face hassles and uncertain waits as flights are cancelled, delayed or diverted around a major portion of European airspace."

Not all air traffic controllers are striking, but those stopping work are protesting against what they say is a lack of sufficient funding allocated for their sector, which they say is in dire need of modernisation.

They want airport fees for airlines to increase by 10 per cent, companies want them to go down, and the government is caught in between.

The SNCTA, the country's biggest air traffic control union, decided not to go on strike following last-ditch negotiations with the government but has echoed mounting concerns that French air navigation tools are becoming dangerously obsolete.

The system used in the country to enhance radar monitoring and for separation of air traffic dates back to the 1980s, and is due to be replaced by a new system.

The tools used to control air traffic are also in need of change.

According to the SNCTA, for instance, all radar screens in the Aix-en-Provence control centre in southern France were recently "urgently" changed after around 20 screens suddenly went blank over the space of 18 months.

Meanwhile, another strike hit loss-making ferry company SNCM Tuesday, severely disrupting services between mainland France and Corsica, Tunisia, Algeria and Sardinia.