Europe's air travel in turmoil: Airlines warn of disruption due to ATC staffing crisis.

With the onset of the summer travel surge, airlines are cautioning against considerable disruption due to staffing shortfalls at Europe's air traffic control (ATC).

Willie Walsh, ex-British Airways boss and present head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has criticized the European ATC performance, attributing the issues to national resource deficits. He stated that the current performance lagged considerably behind 2019 levels, terming it as "disappointing."

Walsh drew attention to specific problems at London's Gatwick airport, attributing them to local resource issues, and also mentioned staffing concerns in France and Germany. EasyJet, Gatwick's most prominent airline, cancelled 1,700 summer flights, attributing it to the problematic conditions spurred by Europe's ATC crises.

Despite Gatwick asserting sufficient resources for the summer, only 40% of flights left on time in the week ending July 2, as per data from Eurocontrol, the regional ATC overseer. NATS, the contracted firm for Gatwick's ATC operations, did not respond to comment requests.

Airports in Paris, Lisbon, and Rome also registered less than 50% on-time departures. With warnings of a "challenging" summer and traffic overloads in areas such as London, Brussels, and Barcelona, Eurocontrol anticipates difficult times.

The aviation sector is striving to avert a recurrence of last summer's turmoil, which was sparked by staff shortages when borders reopened post-Covid. Major airlines, airports, and ground service providers assure adequate staffing levels for handling the summer travel rush.

However, ATC has turned into the most significant potential bottleneck, with airspace congestion in Europe following Ukrainian and Russian airspace closure, leaving only about 80% of regular airspace operational.

Staffing predicaments are worsening these issues, with regular disruptive walkouts by French controllers this year. Possible strikes are warned by Eurocontrol staff, although no dates have been set.

Walsh expressed his disappointment over politicians' silence about the disruption caused by government-controlled or regulated ATC providers, who were quick to criticize airlines last year.

Earlier this week, Ryanair exited the UK Aviation Council, an industry-government collaboration, terming it a "talking shop" that had made no headway on issues including ATC.

In response to the criticism, Eurocontrol pointed to a "positive start" to the summer, noting a year-on-year drop of 8% in overall delays due to ATC in June, aligning it with 2019 levels. However, the organization refrained from commenting on the wider criticism.