Spain launches sale of air traffic control in 13 airports
Spain's government on Wednesday formally launched the privatisation of air traffic control in 13 airports, just weeks after clamping down on a wildcat strike by controllers.
The privatisation of traffic control for the "first 13 airports" was announced in the government bulletin, giving airport operator AENA one month to launch a tender, which will last about seven months.
"This is the largest structural reform in recent years of the airport sector," the Transport Ministry said in a statement. "The passenger will be the beneficiary of this reform because it will improve service quality."
The 13 airports are sprinkled across the country, including Valencia in the east, Seville in the south, the Canary Islands' La Palma, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote and the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.
Others are in Alicante, Sabadell, Jerez, La Coruna, Vigo, Cuatro Vientos and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla.
More privatisations are to follow. The government plans to sell air traffic control services in a total of 47 airports.
A walkout by air traffic controllers on December 3 shut down Spain's airspace at the start of a holiday weekend, disrupting travel for an estimated 300,000 passengers.
Spain's government then declared a state of alert for the first time since the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, putting controllers under military command with the menace of jail terms for refusing orders to work.
It later extended the 15-day alert until January 15 to ensure smooth travel for the Christmas and New Year period.
The government has accused air traffic controllers of defending "intolerable privileges".
According to the Transport Ministry, there are 2,300 air traffic controllers in Spain earning an average 200,000 euros (266,000 dollars) a year.
In February the government cut back controllers' overtime to a maximum 80 hours a year, slicing into pay packets that had bulged with overtime pay of two-to-three times the normal rate of 117 euros an hour.
Previously, controllers had earned an average of more than 300,000 euros, with 135 of them taking home more than 600,000 euros a year and 713 between 360,000 and 540,000 euros a year, ministry figures showed.
The controllers argue understaffing forces them to work more than the 1,200 hours a year they consider safe.
The transport ministry said "safety is fully guaranteed" under the privatisation because the new businesses running air traffic control would have to be certified.
According to the ministry, air traffic control has been completely privatised in Britain and Sweden, and partially privatised in Sweden and Italy.
The Spanish government has also announced plans to sell off a stake of up to 49 percent in AENA to shore up the public accounts.
© 2010 AFP