No deal yet in Polish air traffic row that could leave planes grounded

Aircrafts are seen grounded at the Warsaw airport
Aircrafts are seen grounded at the Warsaw airport April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Petr Josek/File Photo

WARSAW, April 22 (Reuters) - Poland failed to reach agreement with air traffic controllers on Friday in a dispute over pay and conditions, a trade union spokeswoman said, moving airlines closer to what European authorities have said could be mass flight cancellations.

The disruption, affecting not only flights to and from Poland but also those passing through the country's airspace, could start on May 1, the day after the end of the notice period for air traffic controllers who chose to quit rather than accept new working regulations they say threaten safety.

Talks will resume on Sunday afternoon, the spokeswoman said.

European air safety body Eurocontrol said Poland's Civil Aviation Authority will drastically cut the number of flights in Polish airspace if no agreement is reached.

"As of 1 May, the Polish CAA will implement a flight cancellation programme to significantly reduce the number of flights into/out of Polish airspace," Eurocontrol said in an emailed statement.

"It is anticipated that there will be enough controllers for the approach to Warsaw airports to operate ... with a total capacity of around 170 flights. The two Warsaw airports were expected to handle on average 510 flights each day in May."

According to the Polish air traffic controllers' union, 180 out of 206 controllers working in Warsaw chose to resign rather than accept the new working conditions. Forty-four of the 180 have already left, and the notice period for the remaining 136 ends on April 30.

The union says proposals including a cut in air traffic controllers' pay and an increase from eight to 12 in the maximum number of hours they can work in a shift are unacceptable.

"We are fighting for safety and for the return of a culture of work safety and this means an environment of trust, which is built, not bought," it said in a statement on Thursday.

Deputy Infrastructure Minister Marcin Horala has previously said the air traffic controllers' pay demands are not realistic given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced the fees the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) gets from airlines.

Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Koper; Editing by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean and Catherine Evans

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