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The Spanish government declares a state of alert and the Army takes over air traffic control

Up to 300.000 passengers have been left stranded by an unauthorised strike by air traffic controllers. The walkout started at the beginning of a national holiday.

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04 December 2010 01:11 PM

by

Laura Pous / CNA

Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish government has declared a state of alert this Saturday. This is the first time in democracy that Spain declares a state of alert. The military took control of the Spanish air control on Friday night after air traffic controllers started an unauthorised strike that left more than 300.000 passengers stranded at the beginning of a national holiday. Most air traffic controllers called in sick, and forced the closure of Spanish air traffic. The walkout is caused by a dispute between the government and the air traffic controllers over working conditions, and comes just after the cabinet approved the privatisation of 49% of the air traffic authority, AENA. Now, if the controllers do not return to work they would be breaking the military law, according to the Spanish vicepresident, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.


Rubalcaba confirmed in a press conference at midday that the state of emergency will start at 13.00 (GTM+1) and can last up to 15 days. 'We said yesterday that if the situation in the airports did not normalise, we would call a state of alert. It's clear that the situation has not normalised', the vicepresident said following an emergency cabinet meeting.

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled since Friday afternoon, and problems are expected on Saturday. Some air traffic controllers came back to work on Saturday morning, as the head of the army took over the management of air traffic, but most refused to work.

The chief of AENA, Juan Ignacio Lema, defined the strike as 'intolerable'. He accused the air traffic controllers of 'blackmailing the Spanish people' by starting a strike on the eve of a national holiday, when many Spaniards planned to fly abroad. The Transport minister of the Spanish government, José Blanco, also said that air traffic controllers where 'using citizens as hostages'.

The spokesman of the union of air controllers, Jorge Ontiveros, said that they have reached their 'limit' because they cannot accept the new measures asking them 'to work more hours'. 'We cannot carry on like this. In this situation we cannot control planes', he said. The air traffic controllers called in sick en masse and the union said that the strike was not planned as workers had reacted individually to the new plans by the Spanish government.

The chaos in Spanish air traffic also affects airports all around Europe. Flights from London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels to Barcelona have been cancelled, and most of the airports recommend passengers contact their airlines if they have to go to Spain. All flights of Spanish airlines Iberia, Ryanair and Vueling have been cancelled until Sunday.

In total, almost 700 flights have been cancelled in the country until Saturday morning. Passengers stranded in Spanish airports complain that they have not received any information. The air traffic could be closed until Saturday evening. The government and AENA have recommended that passengers not go to airports. The national train company, Renfe, offers free tickets for those affected by the strike.

 

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  • Delays and cues at Barcelona's airport

  • The empty airport of Palma de Mallorca (by ACN)

  • Passengers stranded at the Barcelona airport (by ACN)

  • Most flights are cancelled in Barcelona (by ACN)

  • Passengers ak for some information at Barcelona's airport (by ACN)

  • An agent of Spanish Guardia Civil in the airport (by ACN)

  • A girl stranded at the Madrid airport (by ACN)

  • Delays and cues at Barcelona's airport
  • The empty airport of Palma de Mallorca (by ACN)
  • Passengers stranded at the Barcelona airport (by ACN)
  • Most flights are cancelled in Barcelona (by ACN)
  • Passengers ak for some information at Barcelona's airport (by ACN)
  • An agent of Spanish Guardia Civil in the airport (by ACN)
  • A girl stranded at the Madrid airport (by ACN)
People stranded at Barcelona's airport