Air controllers stop takeoffs in Madrid, Balearic islands
Spanish air traffic controllers called in sick en masse Friday, halting take-offs at Madrid and Balearic airports in a surprise action after the government issued a new ruling on working hours.
The airport shut-downs struck at the start of a long weekend in Spain, one of the busiest times for air travel.
"Controllers are calling in sick en masse and declaring themselves unable to work," said an official at the Spanish airport operator AENA.
Air space had been closed over Madrid, and the Balearic islands of Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza and Minorca, the official said.
Flag carrier Iberia said there were no take-offs from airports in Madrid, the Canary Islands and Palma de Mallorca but planes were still being allowed to land.
"We did not get any warning. They have taken us a bit by surprise so we do not know the exact number of Iberia flights that will be cancelled," said an Iberia spokeswoman.
Iberia believed the action would continue until 1.00 a.m. (0000 GMT), she said.
The action coincided with a cabinet decision Friday to change the way Spain's airports work.
The government stipulated that the maximum time worked by air traffic controllers was 1,670 hours a year but said that this total did not include non-aeronautical work.
The decision on working hours was announced along with a package of measures to raise extra money for the Spanish government and calm market fears of a Greek-style debt crisis striking the country.
The Socialist government ministers also said they would sell up to 49 percent of Spanish airport operator AENA, a significant expansion of earlier plans to sell only 30 percent.
The air traffic controllers' action coincides with a long weekend in Spain: Next Monday and Wednesday are holidays and many people will also take off Tuesday to as to have a five-day break.
© 2010 AFP