Ryanair calls for EU to ban air traffic control strikes

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Ryanair, Europe's biggest low-cost airline, on Tuesday urged the European Union to ban air traffic controllers from going on strike by declaring them to be providers of an "essential service".

Last year the Irish airline was forced to cancel 1,400 flights and delay more than 12,000 others, disrupting over 2.5 million passengers, due to strikes by air traffic controllers in Belgium, France and Spain.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said air traffic controllers who strike in Europe should be fired and replaced just as then US president Ronald Reagan did in August 1981 during the height of the summer holidays.

"The policy should be the same in Europe as in the United States. Air traffic controllers should be declared an essential service and therefore not be allowed to go on strike," he told a news conference in Madrid.

"The same way that the police and the army can't go on strike, air traffic controllers should not be allowed to strike and if they do they should be sacked."

Ryanair is taking legal action against Spanish airport operator AENA and unions over a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers during a holiday weekend in December that disrupted travel for over 200,000 people.

Spain's government forced the controllers to return to work the following day by declaring a state of alert, putting the military in command and threatening jail for those who refused.

Earlier on Tuesday Spanish airport workers threatened to call strikes over the next few months, including during the busy Easter holiday season, to protest government plans to partially privatise AENA.

On August 5, 1981, Reagan fired over 11,000 air traffic controllers who refused a government order to return to work.

Nearly 13,000 controllers had walked off the job two days earlier after talks over pay with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed, leading to the cancelation of thousands of flights across the United States.

© 2011 AFP

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