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Strike By French Air Traffic Controllers Ends


French air traffic controllers are back on the job after a two-day strike that cancelled thousands of flights. The dispute is over a plan to streamline control of Europe's airspace. Unions say that could cost jobs and compromise safety.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: More than three quarters of medium and short distance flights were cancelled at French airports this week. Dejected passengers, mostly French, not foreign, stood in long lines at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and other airports around the country.

Controllers walked off the job to protest the reform of European air space. The European Union wants to consolidate the continent's air traffic control systems under a sole authority and turn its many scattered air traffic zones into a few regional blocs. It also wants to open up bidding on services, such as weather forecasting and navigation.

Air traffic controller Olivier Joffrin says controllers are not against the bulk of the reform meant to create a more efficient system. But he says certain key services, such as the maintenance of radar systems, should not be privatized.

OLIVIER JOFFRIN: We cannot accept that those services - which are very important - are put under market principle. We think that it could be a danger for the safety.

BEARDSLEY: About 27,000 flights a day and more than nine million a year now cross European airspace, flying under air traffic management systems that were mostly designed in the 1950s.

European officials warn that a capacity crunch is looming and urgent steps must be taken. But controllers across France and Europe say they're ready to walk out again if they're demands are not met.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.