WARSAW — Polish air passengers are preparing for chaos this weekend.
From Saturday, Poland will limit the opening hours of Warsaw’s two airports thanks to an ongoing dispute between the country’s air traffic control authorities and flight controllers over pay and working conditions.
The move will see Warsaw Chopin, Poland’s biggest airport, and Modlin’s smaller airport north of the city which serves Ryanair, only operate between 9.30am and 5pm, causing around 300 flights to be suspended a day.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has issued an order limiting airport operations due to the looming threat that more flight controllers will quit their jobs if talks currently stall with the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA ) give no result.
“If there are not enough controllers, flights will have to be limited,” Morawiecki said on Tuesday.
Morawiecki also took a swipe at the controllers, saying: “It’s a narrow professional group that earns a lot in Warsaw and I think they could compromise here and reach an agreement.” He added that they had “some of the best working conditions in Europe” and pointed out that they only worked 30 hours a week.
The airlines involved have threatened to seek damages from PANSA if they cannot take off from the Polish capital.
The crux of the matter is the refusal of flight controllers in Warsaw to sign up to the new pay rules. PANSA said in January that the monthly salary, in rare cases reaching 100,000 złoty (€21,500), was “impossible” to maintain. The new rules provide for higher pay levels of 45,000 złoty per month.
Of 208 air traffic controllers working earlier this year, 44 quit in February and another 131 are reportedly preparing to leave by the end of April.
The Prime Minister’s order also gives a priority list of 32 airports with connections to Warsaw, starting with the three London airports – Heathrow, Luton and Stansted – followed by the main airports of Frankfurt, New York, Chicago, Paris, Brussels , Istanbul and Rome. . It also prioritizes flights departing from Warsaw Chopin over those departing from Modlin.
Polish airports in Szczecin and Rzeszów were also on the list, the latter being the key point for delivering military and other aid to war-torn Ukraine.
“It is very likely that we will be forced to cancel up to 75% of scheduled flights or change flight times,” said LOT, Poland’s national airline.
But rivals are fuming that the restrictions favor the Polish public carrier.
“The Prime Minister has arbitrarily selected 32 destinations served from Warsaw, to give them priority in the event of an expected collapse in ATC capacity on May 1,” Ryanair said in a statement.
According to Ryanair, the exclusion of routes to Stockholm or Milan is “inexplicable”, as is the inclusion of “LOT routes to Berlin and Vilnius, easily accessible by train or car in just a few hours”.
The low-cost carrier has called on EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean and competition chief Margrethe Vestager “to intervene today to ensure that the fundamental principles of EU law are respected by the Polish Prime Minister and to prevent this blatant discrimination against Ryanair and our customers”.
The Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Talks between the ZZKRL flight controllers’ union and PANSA resumed on Tuesday morning.
PANSA said the new compensation rules are part of its post-pandemic modernization plan, “implemented in response to the unprecedented crisis in the aviation industry and the agency’s difficult financial situation.”
Warsaw-based controllers handle around 3,000 flights a day, 700 of which fly over Polish airspace. Of these, some 300 will need to be redirected due to a shortage of controllers, Eurocontrol, the EU’s airspace manager, said in an emailed statement.
The agency is consulting with partners on how best to handle these flights – adding to the already difficult air traffic situation in the region following the closure of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian skies due to sanctions and the Russian invasion. from Ukraine.
“If no solution is found, there will be very negative consequences for the European air network,” Eurocontrol said.
Warsaw Chopin is the busiest in Poland, with nearly 100,000 operations in 2021, a third of total traffic in Poland. Yet traffic in Warsaw only reached 50% of operations compared to 2019 before the pandemic.
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