Air services in Spain getting back to normal after crippling strike
The Spanish government sends military personnel to force air controllers back to work. Passengers are now facing further delays as airports try to clear the backlog
Barcelona (ACN).- Air services in Catalonia and Spain are returning to normal after an unauthorised strike by air traffic controllers left more than 600.000 passengers stranded at the beginning of a national holiday. However, passengers are facing further delays as the airports try to clear the backlog. Air traffic controllers were marched back to work by army officers on Saturday, after the Spanish government declared the state of alert. The Spanish vicepresident, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, warned the controllers that if they did not return to work they would be breaking the military law and could face prison sentences.
This was the first time in democracy that Spain declared a state of alert. The military took control of the Spanish air control on Friday night after air traffic controllers started the strike. The vast majority of the controllers called in sick, causing the closure of Spanish air traffic. The walkout was caused by a dispute between the government and the air traffic controllers over working conditions, and came just after the cabinet approved the privatisation of 49% of its air traffic authority, AENA.
The strike began on Friday afternoon and lasted for more than 20 hours. Thousands of flights were cancelled and 600.000 passengers were affected, according to AENA. The chief of the air traffic authority, Juan Ignacio Lema, defined the strike as 'intolerable' and accused the air traffic controllers of 'blackmailing the Spanish people'. The Transport minister of the Spanish government, José Blanco, also said that air traffic controllers where 'using citizens as hostages'.
However, the emergency measures adopted by the Spanish government worked. Vice-president Rubalcaba said that most of the air controllers returned to work by Saturday afternoon. The first flight took off from Barcelona airport shortly after 4 pm on Saturday. In fact, AENA informed around 4,000 flights were scheduled for Sunday in Spain. At El Prat-Barcelona's airport, flights were taking off and landing as expected. In total, the main Catalan airport had 713 flights scheduled for Sunday. Airlines and local authorities said that it would take at least 48 hours to sort out the air traffic chaos.
Angry Spaniards urged to government to punish the air traffic controllers. Citizens have little sympathy for the strikers because they earn an average of 250k euros annually. Air traffic controllers and the government have been involved in a long dispute over pay and working conditions. The spokesman of the union of air controllers, Jorge Ontiveros, said that they have reached their 'limit' because they cannot accept new measures introduced by the government asking them 'to work more hours'. 'We cannot carry on like this. In this situation we cannot control planes', he said.