Rough going for Europe's changing aviation market

A series of aviation work stoppages in Europe have been making air travel in the region a bit tricky, at best.

On Monday, Air France announced about half of its international flights would be grounded this week, due to a a week-long stike by the airlines pilots.

While Air France says its flights operated by other airlines, including European regional carrier Hop, the Netherlands' KLM and Delta Airlines (DAL) would not be affected by a labor dispute, it also suggests its passengers avoid flying this week.

At issue for the Air France pilots are the airline's plans to shift a large part of its European operations and workers to a lower-cost, Dutch-based carrier.

Pilots for German carrier Lufthansa called off a planned walkout on Tuesday that would have grounded dozens of flights out of Frankfurt. The Lufthansa pilots are contesting the company's plans to change the transitional benefits for pilots who plan to retire early.

A Lufthansa statement said the airline is trying to "do justice to our pilots' retirement planning and to the competitive demands facing Lufthansa."

These aviation labor disputes have been going on in Europe for the past several weeks. Earlier this month, Italian air traffic controllers walked off their jobs for several hours during a busy weekend shift, creating problems for dozens of flights to the U.K.

Those controllers were reportedly upset over plans for a "Single European Sky," a European initiative to create a unified air traffic control management system for all of Europe's airspace, because they fear it will cost their group jobs and create safety issues.

All of these disruptions, analysts say, are due to many of the European legacy carriers' adoption of cost-cutting measures as they attempt to navigate the "new normal" of increased globalization and rising competition from discount carriers.

"Add to this mix volatile fuel prices, new security measures and environmental concerns," notes a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers paper on the subject, "and airlines need to adopt new tactics for controlling costs and boosting revenues in order to protect their already slim profit margins."

One recent sign of how things have changed for many of the European flagship airlines is word that Abu Dhabi-based Etihad may become the single largest shareholder in Italy's Alitalia later this month, if the European Union approves the $2.31 billion (1.76 billion euro) deal.

That agreement, according to Reuters, would also give Etihad access to Europe's fourth-largest travel market and its 25 million passengers. But if the region's labor unrest gets any worse, those passengers may not have the easiest of travels.