Air traffic control issues cost EU economy $20 bln in 2018 - airline body

BRUSSELS, March 6 (Reuters) - Air traffic control (ATC) strikes and staff shortages cost the EU economy 17.6 billion euros ($19.88 billion) in 2018 in the worst year of delays for air passengers in nearly a decade, industry association Airlines for Europe (A4E) said on Wednesday

ATC industrial action, a lack of controllers or other structural issues were responsible for over 75 percent of delays, with the number of EU airline passengers hit up 26 percent on the previous year to 334 million, the industry body said, citing Eurocontrol data.

“Progress on aviation has stalled and we are going backwards,” Michael O’Leary, Ryanair CEO and A4E Chairman, said in a statement which outlined steps to tackle the issue.

“The EU must tackle inefficient ATC monopolies through internationalisation of airspace, introduction of competition between ATC providers, and quicker delivery and flexible deployment of air traffic controllers.”

Chief executives of A4E members including British Airways owner IAG, easyJet, Lufthansa as well as Ryanair met on Wednesday for their annual meeting in Brussels, where they also called for revised regulations on passenger rights and airport charges.

The industry group also pledged to renew efforts on sustainability. A4E said operational issues such as ATC strikes had led to 1 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions since 2014.

The summit was held a day after a study funded by investors said airlines are doing too little in the fight against global warming, adding more fuel efficient planes and steps to ensure flights are at full capacity would help limit emissions.

$1 = 0.8854 euros Reporting by Alistair Smout Editing by Alexandra Hudson