There’s a normal pattern to French ATC strikes – controllers who are unhappy about a range of issues (mainly salaries and labour reforms) announce they plan to take industrial action, Eurocontrol puts a plan in place to mitigate the disruption as best as possible, and airlines start cancelling flights – sometimes voluntarily, other times under the instruction to reduce their schedules.
The Notams that get published prior to these strikes are often the same, and tend to be fairly vague. That’s because they never know exactly how many staff will go on strike until the day itself, when they look around the control room and count the number of empty seats.
Generally though, the smaller airports tend to have the harshest restrictions applied, often with periods where no ATS services are provided at all. During the really big strikes, the larger airports can get hit pretty hard too, and when Notams start getting published saying “MINIMUM SERVICE GUARANTEED”, that’s when you know that things are getting serious – as that basically means that only 50% of FPLs are being accepted (the absolute minimum allowed under French law, regardless of whether or not a strike is taking place).
Each French ATC strike is different, but there are some things that are pretty much the same every time. Here is what you need to know, in order to survive!
Before the strike starts…
For the most accurate pre-tactical info on French ATC strikes, the Eurocontrol page is the best place to go. They will always publish the latest updates in the “Network Headline News” section at the top of the page. They even host teleconferences prior to the strikes, where a bunch of their ATC personnel jump on a call with airlines and other interested parties to discuss what they think will happen, and what plan they have come up with to mitigate disruption.
During the strike…
For real-time updates of any airspace issues once the strike has started, keep an eye on this handy French ATC webpage: http://dsnado.canalblog.com/
For smaller airports, best check the Notams directly, as they might get forgotten about in the deluge of information that gets published and endlessly updated for the other larger airports.
The advice about reroutes during French ATC strikes seems to be almost exactly the same every time. Always double-check the latest info on the Eurocontrol page just in case something is slightly different, but here’s a break-down of what to expect…
(Don’t know what these are? Read “The Three Sisters” for more info!)
All the Tango Routes are subject to higher than normal demand when strikes are on.
All flights intending to route to/from Canaries, Madeira and mainland Portuguese and Spanish destinations via the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area (OCA) are usually requested to flight plan via published routes T9, T213 or T16.
Westbound traffic to North/Central American destinations intending to enter the Shanwick OCA via entry points LASNO, TAMEL or OMOKO are usually requested to FPL via BEDRA in order to avoid those entry points associated with Tango routes.
Similarly, westbound traffic to North/Central American destinations and intending to enter the Shanwick OCA via entry points BEGAS, DIXIS, BERUX or PITAX are requested to FPL via PASAS.
Three other things to remember:
1. During the strike period, ATC normally won’t let you cross from one Tango Route to another.
2. If you’re entering the Shanwick OCA, you must have HF radio.
3. For oceanic clearance during the strike, you need to make sure you request your oceanic clearance 40 minutes before entry to the ocean.
Re-routes through Algeria
If you want to avoid French airspace by flying through DAAA/Algeria instead, you can do so – and until the end of the strike, you won’t have to get an overflight permit. Just make sure you send a new FPL (plus any subsequent DLA messages) to DAAAZQZX and DTTCZQZX addresses, as they will not have received the original FPL.
Depending on where you’re flying to/from, here’s what you need to do:
1. All traffic overflying DAAA/Algeria airspace with destination within the LECB/Barcelona FIR must file via point LUXUR at FL300 or above, and at only EVEN flight levels. (Traffic with destination LEPA/Palma via LUXUR should FPL UM134-LUXUR-GENIO-UN859-OSGAL with STAR OSGAL.)
2. All traffic departing from the LECB/Barcelona FIR and overflying DAAA/Algeria must file via point SADAF at FL310 or above, and at only ODD flight levels.
3. All traffic departing from LEPA/Palma to any airport in DAAA/Algeria must file max FL290 over point SADAF. Departures from LEPA/Palma must also file SID MEBUT: MEBUT-NINES-UM134-OLMIR-UN861-SADAF at FL290.
4. Entering GMMM/Morocco via DTTC/Tunisia and DAAA/Algeria:
- Route: DOPEL UM126 KAWKA UG14 CSO UA31 CHE should be used. DAAA/Algeria ATC will tactically approve direct routing to ALR where possible.
- Route: DOPEL DCT LUXUR SADAF CHE cannot be planned.
5. Entering DAAA/Algeria and DTTC/Tunisia then LIRR/Italy from GMMM/Morocco:
- Route: CHE UA31 CSO UG14 KAWKA UM126 DOPEL shall be used. DAAA/Algeria ATC will tactically approve direct routing from ALR where possible.
- Route: Traffic between DAAA/Algeria and DTTC/Tunisia via SADAF-KAWKA at FL300 and above (only even flight levels).
Re-routes through Tunisia
Tunisia also let operators fly through their airspace when there’s a French ATC strike on, without having to get a permit. Just make sure you copy your FPL (plus any subsequent DLA messages) to DTTCZQZX and DTTCZRZX.
Even when there’s no strike going on, there are a bunch of routes you can use through DTTC/Tunisia airspace that do not require overflight permission. These are:
a) Traffic between DTTC/Tunisia and DAAA/Algeria via DOPEL-LUXUR at FL310 and above (only ‘odd’ flight levels)
b) Traffic between DAAA/Algeria and DTTC/Tunisia via SADAF-KAWKA-DOPEL at FL300 and above (only ‘even’ flight levels)
During the strike, they also open up routes connecting LMMM/Malta with DAAA/Algeria, for flights from Europe to Africa and South America. For that, you should file FPL using following routes:
- Route: PAN – BIRSA – ELO (after ELO traffic can fly DCT GHA) at FL195-465 to be filed for traffic destination West Africa and South America, or
- Route: PAN – RALAK – EBA at FL195-465 to be filed for traffic destination South/South West of Africa.