Europe’s leading airlines hit out at revised EU flight-delay targets for air traffic control following record delays last summer, calling them “the weakest ever”.

The Airlines for Europe (A4E) association warned the new targets “will lead to increased delays and more CO2 emissions”.

EU member states agreed to extend the existing average delay target of 0.5 minutes or 30 seconds per flight to 0.9 minutes or 54 seconds.

The increase does not sound much as an average per flight but represents a near doubling in the cumulative length of delays deemed acceptable.

EU member states approved the revised targets for the next two years last week.

Eurocontrol, the pan-European air navigation organisation, reported an average delay per flight of 1.5 minutes in 2017, of which 0.88 minutes were due to inflight delays – just below the revised target.

However, the average inflight delay in summer 2017 was almost 50% higher at 1.29 minutes per flight, and the cumulative delays last summer were more than double that.

The average delay per flight for the whole of 2018 hit 1.73 minutes.

A4E called for urgent reform of EU airspace, warning: “Passengers can expect even more delays [and] longer flight times.”

The association represents airlines including Ryanair, easyJet, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, IAG – parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling – and Norwegian Air.

Thomas Reynaert, A4E managing director, said: “These targets will reward poorly performing air navigation service providers (ANSPs) while frustrating those who are already delivering.”

He blamed “insufficient staffing levels and underspending by ANSPs” and said: “The new targets are extremely disappointing and bad news for passengers.”

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told an A4E summit in Brussels in March: “2018 was one of the worst years ever. This summer is likely to be just as bad. It’s completely unacceptable.”

He said: “Karlsruhe in Germany is one of the bottlenecks of Europe. [German ANSP] DFS should be ashamed.”

The airline bosses have demanded a raft of measures to reduce delays, including limiting the impact of air traffic control strikes by allowing ‘overflights’ of countries hit by industrial action.

They also want reform of EU rules on compensation to passengers, arguing they currently pay out for delays they can’t control.

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