The conflict between air traffic controllers (and their protest) and PANSA caused serious perturbations on the Polish aviation market. So far, the parties have managed to reach a temporary agreement, which, however, is to be valid only until July 10 this year. “We must bear in mind that this conflict has not yet been fully extinguished” emphasises Błażej Patryn, spokesman for Poznań-Ławica Airport.
As he indicates, it has already caused a lot of uncertainty among passengers, who can, however, be calm about vacation flights for the time being. However, a possible resumption of the dispute may be very costly not only for them, but also for regional ports and the entire tourism industry.
“We had a lot of nerves related to this situation, which as an airport we could not have foreseen in any way”, says Błażej Patryn. “After the pandemic and when the war in Ukraine broke out, these two elements had a very strong impact on the condition of the tourism industry and airports – this conflict was another reason to look at the May, June and the entire vacation period with anxiety, what the flights will look like. Of course, we must bear in mind that this conflict has not yet been completely extinguished.
About 600 controllers in Poland
There are about 600 controllers in Poland who play a key role in the smoothness and safety of air traffic. Their wages are several times higher than the average wage in the national economy. At the same time, this professional group, after years of training, works under great stress, under the pressure of high responsibility and with no margin for the slightest error.
The auditors are employed and remunerated by the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency, which mainly lives off the fees paid by the airlines. However – incl. as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which severely limited air traffic – the agency’s budget revenues decreased. Therefore, in March this year. PANSA has made an attempt to reorganise the remuneration of air traffic controllers.
According to the proposed new regulations, their average earnings were to drop by approx. 1/3 – from the current level of approx. 45 thousand. PLN up to 30-33000 PLN gross. This, however, caused a conflict with PANSA regarding wages and working conditions. A group of 180 out of 208 auditors working in Warsaw did not agree to the new rules and threatened to resign at the end of April this year, after the lapse of the notice period.
The result would be a paralysis of part of the sky over Poland, and in Modlin and in Warsaw’s Okęcie, the daily number of flights would drop even by more than 2/3. The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) also warned against the need to transfer certain areas of the sky to the supervision of other air traffic agencies and to mass cancel flights from and to Poland.
Although Deputy Minister Marcin Horała even suggested the possibility of introducing military airspace management over Poland, at the end of April this year. the parties finally managed to reach a temporary agreement. This, however, will only apply until July 10 this year.
“Fortunately, at the moment we have a certain freeze of this conflict, in some areas an agreement has been reached. We all know that this has been dragged onto July, but it allows those passengers who have plans for May and June to plan their departures with confidence. We keep our fingers crossed for the inspectors to reach this agreement with their employers and for the holidays to be saf”e, says the spokesman for Poznań-Ławica Airport.
So far, as part of the agreement reached with the controllers, PANSA has agreed to implement all 24 postulates regarding the safety rules of controllers and air traffic as well as the return to pre-pandemic salaries. This does not mean, however, that the months-long conflict has been completely resolved.
The return of the protest is possible
The Trade Union of Air Traffic Controllers is to work on the new work and safety regulations for the next two months, until July 10 this year, after which negotiations will resume. A spokesman for the Poznań-Ławica Airport indicates that the possible re-flare-up of the dispute may affect not only the financial condition of the airports and the aviation industry, but also the entire tourism sector.
“This could be another very big problem, primarily for the finances of the tourism and aviation industry, but also affect the financial condition of regional airports such as Poznań. If this agreement was not reached, both the airport in Poznań and other regional airports may have further, quite considerable problems in financial matters”emphasises Błażej Patryn.
A spokesman for the Poznań-Ławica airport also points out that so far passengers planning flights for holidays can be confident about them, at least until the beginning of July this year. However, the controllers’ protest caused a lot of uncertainty.
“We had a lot of questions from passengers about how the flights will be carried out in May. Passengers had some problems making decisions. Of course, each time we tried to reassure us that as long as there is no final settlement, we should not make hasty movements, because it seemed to us that it was simply impossible to lead to a situation in which flights would not be carried out.
And so it really happened at that moment. We hope that there will be no further problems. There is so much time that this final and final agreement will certainly be beneficial for all air traffic participants – primarily for passengers, but also for the aviation and tourism industry” , says Błażej Patryn.