Paris-bound tourists planning to celebrate the New Year in the City of Light may be in for an unexpected disruption as thousands of flights are set to be cancelled due to the technical modernisation of the French air navigation system.
The ambitious update, a significant leap in air traffic control technology, has been in the works for years and is now scheduled to take place from January 9 to February 14, with further disruptions expected after the Olympic Games.
The technical overhaul, which features the implementation of the 4-Flight software, is being developed by the Air Navigation Services Department (DSNA) in collaboration with Thales, an industrial company, and Defence teams.
The software aims to enhance air traffic management and efficiency, representing a crucial modernisation effort for the French aviation industry.
However, the transition to the new system comes with a significant price – airlines are being asked to reduce their flight schedules during the testing phases.
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Specifically, airlines operating in the central Athis-Mons sector, responsible for air traffic control for all flights departing from and arriving in Paris (Roissy, Orly, and Beauvais airports), are expected to cut around 20 per cent of their flights during this period.
This reduction will lead to the cancellation of a staggering 16,500 flights, with Air France alone accounting for 4,379 cancelled flights, according to Cohor, the association for the coordination of schedules.
“We are in a phase in which airlines are asked to make proposals to reduce their programs on a voluntary basis in a period which is not traditionally the busiest,” confirmed Laurent Timsit, the general delegate of the National Federation of Aviation (Fnam). While airlines are not legally obligated to reduce their schedules, they are encouraged to do so in the interest of collective harmony.
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French Senator Vincent Capo-Canellas, who has long advocated for modernising the French air traffic control system, has expressed his concern over the delay in implementing this essential upgrade.
“France is the European champion of delay,” he said, emphasising that the country’s air traffic control system was outdated, still using technology designed in the 1970s.
Capo-Canellas further explained that the 4-Flight system’s full deployment is expected to be delayed until 2026, more than a decade beyond the initial planned deployment in 2015.
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He added: “While it was to be deployed as early as 2015, 4-Flight was only put into service in two out of five centres in 2022 and should only be fully deployed by 2026, after more than 10 years of delay.”
Despite the inconvenience caused by the testing phases, experts believe that this modernisation will offer substantial benefits. Laurent Timsit of Fnam underscored the importance of developing the air navigation system, stressing that it would increase airport capacities and reduce delays, resulting in a “major environmental breakthrough” by reducing CO2 emissions by 8 to 10 per cent.
In an information report from 2018, Senator Capo-Canellas had warned that French air traffic control was “the sick man of Europe,” lagging behind its counterparts by two decades and contributing significantly to delays on the continent. With the technological overhaul finally underway, Capo-Canellas considers it logical for airlines to adapt their schedules during the winter season, rather than closer to the summer season and the Olympic Games.
Air France has confirmed that it will be “forced to cancel certain short and medium-haul flights over this period,” with affected customers being offered alternatives.
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