Air traffic control (ATC) strikes and staff shortages cost the EU economy €17.6 billion in 2018 in the worst year of delays for air passengers in nearly a decade, industry association Airlines for Europe (A4E) said today. 

ATC industrial action, a lack of controllers or other structural issues were responsible for over 75% of delays.

The number of EU airline passengers affected rose by 26% 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," Mr O'Leary added. 

Chief executives of A4E members including Aer Lingus and British Airways owner IAG, EasyJet, Lufthansa as well as Ryanair met today for their annual meeting in Brussels.

The group has 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.