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eTN rep stranded in Barcelona while controllers began returning

Spanish government declared its first state of emergency in the post-Franco era

Dec 04, 2010

eTurboNews Middle East representative Motaz Othman is currently stranded in Barcelona after attending EIBTM.

Spanish airspace reopened today after a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers paralyzed airports for a second day and the government declared its first state of emergency in the post-Franco era.

Motaz wrote: "Unfortunately, i was one of those who can not travel back home, my flight is today the 4th Dec at 12.20 from Bercelona to Bucharest on Tarom Airline and my connection to Amman was today. Tarom was unable to fly to Barcelona and the next connection with Tarom to Amman is on the 7th December. I returned back to the Hotel in Barcelona have to stay two more nights and one night in Bucharest."

Controllers began returning to work on Saturday afternoon but Public Works Minister Jose Blanco said it would take 24 to 48 hours for air traffic to return to normal.

The army was called in to take over control towers and the government threatened to take legal action against individual strikers who are locked in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions with the state-run airports authority AENA.

Passengers camped out in airports across the country on Saturday as the unofficial strike action caused chaos and threatened to deepen Spain's economic problems.

Spain is carrying out tough reforms and spending cuts to rein in a deficit and ward off market fears it may need a bailout similar to that of Ireland.

AENA said Spanish airspace had reopened by mid-afternoon.

Many airlines, including Spanish flag carrier Iberia and Ryanair, cancelled flights. Iberia said it hoped to restart long-haul services on Saturday evening.

Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said earlier if the controllers did not return to work they would be breaking the law.

The government had declared a state of emergency, the first during Spain's recent democratic history, which began with the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975 and the end of military rule.

The unofficial stoppage followed cabinet approval of changes to rules on the number of hours air traffic controllers can work per year and of a law allowing the army to take over air space in times of emergency.

Unions have also condemned plans to sell off 49 percent of AENA to raise up to 9 billion euros.


The army took over control towers after Friday's walkout by controllers, which stopped flights in and out of Spain's main airports, disrupting travel for some 250,000 people on one of Spain's busiest holiday weekends.

"We arrived at the airport at seven in the morning and it was surrounded by military trucks full of soldiers and riot police. They offered to put us on the waiting list but warned us we wouldn't be flying until Monday at the earliest," Esther Rojas said in Madrid's Barajas airport.

The controllers gave no warning before starting their walkout by claiming sick leave and leaving their posts, effectively closing the whole of Spanish airspace except the southern region of Andalucia.

The air traffic controllers' union, USCA, said its workers were not on strike but had had enough. "This is a popular revolt," USCA head Camilo Cela told Reuters.

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Blanco condemned the strike as "blackmail" and there was widespread condemnation of the controllers' action in Spanish newspapers.

Tourism accounts for about 11 percent of Spain's gross domestic product and the Spanish Hotel Confederation said the disruption would lead to millions of euros in losses and damage Spain's image as a holiday destination.

Air traffic controllers' relatively high salaries and short working hours have raised hackles in the Spanish media as the country is enforcing painful austerity measures.

Air traffic controllers earn more than 10 times a Spanish family's average income of about 24000 Euro a year

Spanish government declared its first state of emergency in the post-Franco era

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