Ryanair and Europe’s air traffic control are at loggerheads, with the airline blaming it for more than 1,000 flights cancelled in May.
The airline has warned that action is required to avoid a “meltdown” of Europe’s air traffic control, claiming that the cancellations were “almost all due to ATC staff shortages and strikes”.
This is compared with just 43 cancellations in May last year.
EasyJet said it had cancelled 974 flights last month, up from 117 in May 2017.
French ATC is set to strike again on Saturday June 15, leading to hundreds of further cancellations.
Flights which fly over France, even without taking off or landing in the country, are affected.
Airlines are also suffering disruption due to ATC staff shortages in the UK, Germany and other countries, Ryanair warned.
Michael O’Leary, the carrier’s chief executive, told Sky News that ATC staff shortages were being “covered up by ‘weather delays’ or ‘capacity restrictions'”.
“We have been told by the French authorities that we have to cancel 150 flights, many of which don’t even touch France, because the air traffic controllers there are going on strike this Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s unacceptable, and as Willie Walsh [chief executive of rival International Airlines Group] said last month, it’s getting worse.
“The real fear is that when passengers come to take their holidays in July and August, they will suffer flight cancellations, long delays or disruptions because of inadequate staffing in air control, particularly at weekends.”
A spokeswoman for UK ATC provider Nats contradicted Mr O’Leary’s assertions, saying that its staffing issues accounted for less than 3% of cancelled Ryanair flights in the UK this year.
There was “significant weather” in southern England in April and May, including major thunderstorms which effectively blocked large swathes of airspace as planes can’t fly through them, she said.
“This inevitably results in delays – in effect it is very similar to closure of main roads,” the spokeswoman added.
She said: “We are embarking on a major programme to modernise airspace in south east England in order to accommodate forecast growth in air traffic.
“Change takes time and requires public consultation but we are committed to delivering this over the next five years, as Ryanair well know.”