The bosses of British Airways owner IAG and Ryanair are filing a complaint to Brussels with a stark warning that air traffic control strikes are destroying the aviation sector and economies across Europe.

A total of 24 strike days so far this year have caused 5,000 flights to be cancelled affecting 784,000 passengers and thousands of delays impacting millions more travellers, according to lobby group Airlines for Europe (A4E).

A four-fold rise in flight delays of more than 15 minutes to 56,000 was recorded last month against 14,000 in May 2017.

A4E warned ahead of the summer peak flying period that 2018 is shaping up to be one of the worst years ever for ATC strikes in Europe.

As many as 39,000 flights – around 30% of the total en-route delays in May – were delayed due to ATC strikes, sccording to Eurocontrol.

The European air traffic control organisation projects total delay minutes this year will be up by 53% compared to 2017 as a result of strikes and capacity shortages – 14.3 million in 2018 versus 9.3 million minutes last year.

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers study showed that the economic cost of ATC strikes in the EU between 2010-2017 was €13.4 billion.

The European Commission said last summer that since 2005 there have been around 357 air traffic control strikes in the EU, 254 of which have occurred in France.

IAG and Ryanair’s complaint will argue that EU law is being infringed by not adequately protecting flights over France.

A4E has proposed a mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for staff wishing to strike, protection of over-flights while ensuring it does not come to the detriment of local services, and a guarantee on minimum services to be provided.

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh said: “IAG and Ryanair are planning to submit a complaint to the European Commission as ATC strikes represent the biggest challenge for our industry.

“They are destroying European air traffic and having a huge impact on consumers. It’s a really frustrating cause of disruption that affects all airlines but in particular has a significant negative impact on Spain’s tourism and economy.

“Continuous strikes by ATC staff in Marseille have a disproportionate impact on those airlines flying from Barcelona because they control flights over most of the Mediterranean airspace.

“For Vueling this means that 50% of its flights are affected. The EU must act now to protect the rights of the consumers and prevent long term damage to European economies”.

Michael O’Leary, his counterpart at Ryanair, said: “These disruptions are unacceptable, and we call on the governments, and the EU Commission to take urgent and decisive action to ensure that ATC providers are fully staffed and that over-flights are not affected when national strikes take place, as they repeatedly do in France.

“Europe’s ATC providers are approaching the point of meltdown with hundreds of flights being cancelled daily either because of ATC strikes or because Europe’s ATC don’t have enough staff.

“The situation is particularly acute at weekends where British and German ATC providers are hiding behind adverse weather and euphemisms such as ‘capacity restrictions’ when the truth is they are not rostering enough ATC staff to cater for the number of flights that are scheduled to operate.

“Urgent action must now be taken by the UK and German governments, and the EU Commission, otherwise thousands more flights and millions of passengers will be disrupted, particularly in the peak months of July and August, unless this ATC staffing crisis is addressed.”

A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert added: “We have been working constructively and quite intensively over the last several months with French government officials and parliamentarians to establish a stable and long-term solution to these disruptions.

“In this context, we urge the French government to take decisive action to resolve this issue on behalf of all our passengers, ahead of this summer’s busy travel season.”

Consumers are being asked to demand swifter action by EU politicians by signing an A4E online petition at: www.keepeuropesskiesopen.com.

The petition will be presented to the relevant authorities in Brussels and EU capitals by the end of the year.