Flight delays in Europe more than doubled last year as airlines and air traffic controllers failed to hit EU performance targets.

Delays rose to a total of 19.1m minutes last year, double that of the previous year. The average delay per flight was 1.73 minutes in 2018 against EU performance targets of half a minute.

However, the number of flights hit a record 11m, according to figures from Eurocontrol, which co-ordinates national air traffic management agencies.

The figures were contained in an email sent by Eurocontrol director-general Eamonn Brennan, seen by the Financial Times. The email also highlighted that September 7 2018 was the busiest day in European aviation history, with 37,101 flights.

Eurocontrol had previously projected the total minutes of delay for 2018 would rise to 14.3m, much lower than the final figures.

In his email, Mr Brennan wrote that lack of capacity and staff shortages among air traffic controllers were responsible for 60 per cent of the delays, followed by weather, 25 per cent, and strikes, 14 per cent.

John Strickland, an aviation consultant, said he did not expect things to get better “unless there’s a reduction in traffic”. However, capacity figures published by EU airlines indicate the number of flights will grow this year.

He also pointed to the slow development of the Single European Sky project, which was supposed to improve efficiency but is “woefully far from fruition”.

Strikes by and shortages of Europe’s air traffic controllers have infuriated airlines, prompting IAG, owner of British Airways, and low-cost carriers Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet to file complaints with the European Commission.

The airlines claimed that the commission’s failure to deal with strikes in countries such as France was breaching Europeans’ freedom of movement, one of the EU’s four fundamental freedoms.

IAG’s low-cost Vueling airline, based in Spain, has in the past had 50 per cent of its flights affected by strikes.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, has criticised the “lethargy and inaction” of the commission and national governments.

In Europe, air traffic control is managed on a national level. “Nothing will get in the way of the four freedoms, unless you’re a French air traffic controller,” he said.

European transport commissioner Violeta Bulc has called for more investment and adoption of technology from EU states to combat delays. Last summer’s congestion, she said, was “stimulating everyone to act”.

European passengers would be in for “a torrid summer” if industrial action and staff shortages are not resolved, Mr Strickland said.

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