A new study commissioned by airline association Airlines4Europe (A4E) has estimated the cost of air traffic control (ATC) strikes as up to €9.5 billion over the last five years.

The analysis compiled by PwC between 2010-15 shows that the overall impact of ATC strikes reduced European Union GDP by up to €9.5 billion (at 2015 prices). A4E says that if the situation continues, the the costs of ATC strikes between 2015-20 will be of similar magnitude to the entire GDP of Malta.

From 2010 to 2015, there were 167 ATC strike days in the EU – one disrupted day every 13 days. In total there were 213 disrupted days during this period (if you take into account the days before and after an ATC strike where flights had to be cancelled).

Across the EU, ATC strikes occured the most frequently in France, followed by Greece, Italy and Portugal. They resulted in 30,000 cancellations and more than six million minutes of delay among A4E airlines.

“The European aviation sector – with 900 million passengers each year – is one of the best-performing parts of the European economy. Any disruption has severe knock-on effects on tourism and other sectors. We cannot let this destruction of productivity continue. These latest figures should provide a wake-up call for politicians in Brussels and the member states to work together with stakeholders on long-term solutions to protect individual mobility and European prosperity”, said Thomas Reynaert, managing director of A4E.

The majority of the economic impact of ATC strikes is felt through reduced tourism spending. PwC suggests the overall impact through this channel over the past six years amounts to around €5.6 billion or just above €930 million a year.

Specifically, the second-largest impact is felt through the reduction in productivity associated with longer flights and waiting times. The cumulative economic impact felt through this channel amounts to €3.3 billion or €550 million a year.

Finally, the third-largest impact is felt via lower airline sector revenues. The economic impact of this is around €551 million or around €92 million per year (all at 2015 prices).

Taking into account delays associated with rescheduling, as well as delays to last-filed flight plan, the true economic impact over the six years is €9.5 billion, associated with 131,000 jobs.

“Tourism plays a major role in the EU economy and is the third-largest social-economic activity in the EU generating over 5 per cent of EU GDP. Southern European states suffer more than others from ATC strikes because passengers are unable to reach their holiday destination. The EU Commission needs to put the tourism sector back into the spotlight – there are barely better programmes to tackle high rates of youth unemployment in Southern Europe”, said Reynaert.

Recent data from the EU Commission show up to two million people employed directly in the EU aviation sector, of which 15,000 are air traffic controllers. Two million passengers were stranded due to strikes between 2010-15.

Tom Otley