Passengers sleep in Paris airport as strike enters second day

ORLY, France (AFP) - At least 200 passengers were forced to spend Tuesday night in a Paris airport after an ongoing air-traffic controllers' strike disrupted their flights to Spain and Portugal.

An airport source said the passengers, most of whom had been due to travel with low-cost airline Vueling, were given camp beds to help them through their night in Orly airport and were joined on Wednesday morning by scores of others whose flights were cancelled or delayed.

The strike, which kicked off on Tuesday, is due to last until Sunday as some of the country's air-traffic controllers protest against what they say is a lack of sufficient funding for a sector in dire need of modernisation.

Representatives of the union that called the work stoppage are expected to meet transport officials on Wednesday afternoon, after which they will decide whether to pursue the strike.

France's civil aviation watchdog said on Wednesday that around one in five flights going to and from several cities in southern France, or taking off from Paris to the south, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, were cancelled - the same situation as Tuesday.

The strike has been blasted by airlines and trade groups, with the International Air Transport Association condemning "unions bent on stopping progress" at the height of the tourist season in France.

Air-traffic controllers involved in the action want airport fees for airlines to increase by 10 per cent, but companies want them to go down and the government is caught in between.

The SNCTA, the country's biggest air-traffic control union, decided not to go on strike following last-ditch negotiations with the government but has echoed mounting concerns that French air-navigation tools are becoming dangerously obsolete.

The system used in the country to enhance radar monitoring and for separation of air traffic dates back to the 1980s, and is due to be replaced by a new system.

The tools used to control air traffic are also in need of change.

According to the SNCTA, for instance, all radar screens in the Aix-en-Provence control centre in southern France were recently "urgently" changed after around 20 screens suddenly went blank over the space of 18 months.

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