Strike grounds half of flights at France's main airports

Air traffic controllers in France kicked off a series of strikes against a European plan to overhaul their industry, forcing the country's main airports to cut their flight timetables in half on Tuesday.

The Civil Aviation Authority said some 1,800 flights were cancelled at Charles de Gaulle, Orly, Beauvais, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux airports.

The strike was called to protest against a European Union plan to centralize control of the continent's air space to eliminate duplication of work across the bloc's 27 countries.

Unions fear the plan will cost jobs and reduce pay for air traffic controllers. They have called more strikes in other countries throughout the EU on Wednesday.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas on Tuesday called for a speedy implementation of the centralization plan as the current system's inefficiencies are costing airlines and customers some 5 billion euros ($6.6 billion) annually.

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French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said that France and Berlin are seeking a postponement of the plan. He said that he and his German colleague, Peter Ramsauer, asked the European Transport commissioner to formally "delay this type of liberalization" at the European summit at the end of June.