French air traffic control currently works on a system developed in the 1970s - sometimes still using paper strips to represent incoming planes. Though it has been regularly upgraded over the years, it is scheduled for a major overhaul in early 2024 due to rapid growth in air traffic.
As the system is updated, the first two months of the year could be complicated for passengers. More than 2.5 million flights pass through French airspace each year and any disruption can affect journeys across Europe.
While the work is taking place, it is estimated that around 16,500 flights will be cancelled, according to business news channel BFM.
Between 9 January and 14 February, airlines have been advised to cut the number of flights taking off and landing at Paris' Charles de Gaulle, Orly, Le Bourget and Beauvais airports by 20 per cent.
During this period, the new system will be tested at the air traffic control centre in Athis-Mons, the largest in France which manages all of the airports in Paris and Beauvais.
Which flights will be cancelled during the upgrade?
Which flights are cancelled will be left up to airlines but they are likely to prioritise long-distance routes.
Air France told French media that it has been “forced to cancel certain short and medium-haul flights during this period” - more than 4,200 in total by the Air France-KLM group.
In an attempt to minimise the impact on passengers, the airline group has already cancelled these flights, informed passengers and offered them transfers to different flights on the same day.
Why do air traffic control systems need to be upgraded?
Around €1 billion is being invested in improving France’s air traffic control so that it will be able to handle more flights and operate more efficiently.
Upgrading to this “new generation system” has become “crucial”, Florian Guillermet, director of the Services de la Navigation aérienne (DNSA) told BFM.
The scale of the operation is so big because nearly 80 per cent of the system will need to be upgraded - much more than the usual practice of changing components one after the other.
The new software has already been implemented at air traffic control centres in Reims and Aix-en-Provence but still needs to be tested at the biggest centre in Athis-Mons. During this six-week period at the beginning of 2024, the software will be tested before finally being introduced in November.