Strike halts Belgian flight landings, take-offs
Belgian air traffic controllers launched a 24-hour strike on Tuesday, grounding Brussels take-offs and landings and forcing planes to re-route to neighbouring countries.
Belgium's national air security organisation Belgocontrol said the "spontaneous" walkout began at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT).
A spokesman said they did not yet know precisely why the wildcat strike, announced by controllers to pilots but without formal warnings to management, had been called.
Management met with some unions in the morning in a bid to avert the shutdown but the strike went ahead without unions spelling out the reasons for the action and with an angry rebuke from management.
"No immediate solution could be found," said the spokesman.
Local media cited one representative, Bernadette Guillemeyn of the CSC union, as saying the strike was triggered by long-running disenchantment with management.
Bosses have been under financial pressure after losses of five million euros last year.
About 100,000 anti-austerity protesters were expected in Brussels on Wednesday morning, and passengers turning up for planes on Tuesday afternoon were forced to seek alternative means of transport.
Flights above 7,500 metres are not affected, because they are controlled in Maastricht, Netherlands, by Eurocontrol, which said planes that normally travel below that level could be brought higher up.
A spokeswoman told AFP that this could be done "without too many problems" and that extra staff were being brought in.
A message on the main Brussels airport's website said "all air traffic is cancelled" until at least 10:00 pm (2000 GMT), the time of the next shift change.
At Charleroi, the southern hub for a swathe of low-cost carriers servicing Europe and Africa, there were also delays and redirections to Lille, just across the French border.
The latest figures given by management from July showed a total of 104,885 take-offs and landings over Belgium, but even allowing for the end of the holiday season, that still means thousands of flights per day.
Passengers were advised to contact airlines for news of individual flights.
© 2010 AFP