Strike call threatens Paris airports' Olympics preparations

Strike call threatens Paris airports' Olympics preparations

A dispute between aviation workers and management at the French capital's airports threatens to overshadow years of preparations and a 50-million-euro investment for visitors and athletes arriving for the Paris Olympics this month.

The Paris Olympics generic image

Unions at state-controlled ADP group, which runs the main Charles de Gaulle airport and its cross-town rival Orly, announced a one-day stoppage on July 17 to press for bigger Olympics bonuses and staff recruitment.

If it continues, the stand-off with management could impact the Games, with athletes set to start arriving en masse from July 18 and hundreds of thousands of ticket holders flying in ahead of the July 26 opening ceremony.

"The fact that we are forced to call for a strike is because of the obstinate refusal of management and in particular the CEO of the company," unions said in a joint statement on Monday.

Along with train stations, Charles de Gaulle and Orly are set to be the main gateways into France for foreign Olympics fans, as well as athletes and equipment.

The ability of ADP's unions to mobilise workers next week is uncertain, however, with a previous stoppage called on May 19 having little effect on operations.

The country's air traffic controllers, despite winning large pay increases last year, went on strike again on April 25, causing thousands of flight cancellations.

- Queues -

Charles de Gaulle and Orly will the first glimpse many foreign visitors and athletes have of the French capital when they arrive for the Games.

As a result, ADP has spent 50 million euros ($54 million) upgrading its infrastructure and French authorities are deploying extra resources to make the experience as smooth and safe as possible.

"We know that there are some days that will be really intense and we will maybe have 300,000 travellers in the same day at Charles de Gaulle," Julien Gentile, director of border security forces at Paris's airports, told reporters last week.

That number is well above the daily summer average of 200,000 at the airport and is far beyond the record 250,000 daily fliers reached in the summer of 2019.

For the duration of the Games, 250 border posts will be open -- 100 more than normal -- and they will be staffed almost round-the-clock thanks to 2,000 reinforcements, including from the EU's border force Frontex.

"It's like if your supermarket had all of its tills open from the start of the day to the close," Gentile added.

Automated passport control machines, which can be used by EU travellers, as well as crowd-monitoring technology that alerts managers to the arrival of passengers, are also part of the efforts to avoid bottlenecks.

- Oversized luggage -

One of the key challenges for ADP over the Olympic period is managing irregular and sharp spikes in demand.

The busiest days are expected to come after the closing ceremony on August 11 when spectators, officials and most of the 10,000 athletes will head home.

This coincides with a big changeover period during the French school summer holidays.

"Athletes and delegations arrive in a fairly dispersed manner and will leave in very concentrated fashion," ADP deputy chief executive Edward Arkwright told reporters in April this year.

Athletes will also arrive and depart with an estimated 47,000 pieces of luggage, many of them large and cumbersome, containing items such as kayaks, bikes or polevaulting poles.

A large, specially designed temporary oversized baggage terminal has been built at Charles de Gaulle, measuring 8,000 m2 (86,000 sq. ft), with a smaller version constructed at Orly.

- 'France's image' -

As well the strike threats, the unusual baggage, and the spikes in demand, the city's airports will also have to contend with the arrival of thousands of VIPs, journalists and officials from the International Olympic Committee.

The opening ceremony -- to be proceeded by a summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron -- will draw more than 100 heads of state and government, all of whom require protocol services and parking space for their jets.

A vast no-fly zone around Paris, with a radius of 150 kilometres (93 miles), will be established during the opening ceremony, grounding all civilian flights.

Once out of the terminals, regular travellers will find multi-lingual "welcome teams" offering advice on travel and buying tickets at the train stations.

"There's a huge amount of work that's been done," the head of the greater Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, said at the end of June when unveiling the transport and security .

In the metro and train stations at the airports, police are set to step up patrols against pickpockets and chain snatchers.

"France's image is in the balance because this is the first step for a passenger as they arrive in the country," deputy head of border forces at Charles de Gaulle, Regis Bailleul, explained.

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