PARIS (Reuters) - French air traffic controllers walked off the job on Tuesday, grounding one flight in four across the country in a protest against EU plans to liberalise civil airspace.
Walk-outs are expected to spread across Europe on Wednesday, but France's air controller union SNCTA cancelled a planned third day of strikes on Thursday, citing encouraging support from the French and German governments against the EU's project.
Workers are concerned that plans for a "Single European Sky", intended to cut travel times and costs, will adversely affect their working conditions and result in job cuts.
Countries have been slow to dismantle domestic air traffic monopolies and the Commission has threatened to sanction countries who won't comply with the plan, which aims to create a single air traffic control system for the EU.
French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier announced on Monday that he and his German counterpart had handed the European transport commissioner a memorandum asking the European executive to freeze the project, saying national authorities needed more time to adapt to the planned organisation.
BACK TO NORMAL ON THURSDAY
Some 1,800 flights were cancelled out of about 7,650 scheduled for Tuesday -- nearly one in four -- France's DGAC civil aviation authority said, with fewer flights to Paris, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux affected than its initial estimate of 50 percent.
Marseille airport in the south of France said on its website that it was less affected than others, with 100 flights or about a third scrapped. More than 70 flights were cancelled out of Nice airport.
Germany's largest airline Lufthansa cancelled 170 flights to and from France because of the strikes. Britain's easyJet said it had cancelled 35 flights to Paris, 11 to Toulouse and others to Marseille, Bordeaux and Nice.
Air France said it was cancelling an unspecified number of short- and medium-haul flights, but that its schedule would go back to normal on Thursday at 0400 GMT.
The fallout from the strike has also affected preparations for the maiden flight of Europe's newest passenger jet, the Airbus A350, French transport sources said.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Marine Pennetier, Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt and Ethan Bilby in Brussels, writing by Natalie Huet; Editing by Mike Collett-White)