Absentee air traffic staff caused serious delays in Spain

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The absence of nearly half of Barcelona's air traffic controllers at the weekend, most of them taking sick leave, caused major flight delays in the region, Spain's airport and air traffic authority Aena said Monday.

"The absence of 28 controllers... at the Barcelona control centre, which is 46 percent of the staff, caused delays in air traffic in the Mediterranean zone" on Sunday, Aena said in a statement.

These "major delays" affected the airports in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands that include tourist hot-spots Majorca and Ibiza, and the Valencia region.

"Out of those 28 absent, 24 cited medical reasons," Aena said, adding that each case was being investigated by the social security services.

In a separate statement, the Air Traffic Controllers Union said it was not behind the absenteeism, and reminded that, in its week-long discussions with Aena, "things have progressed more than in the past five years."

"It does not make sense to resort to pressure tactics, even less in a secretive way," the head of the union Camilo Cesa said in the statement.

In February the Spanish government put an end to what it described as the "incomprehensible privileges" of air traffic controllers, including their high rates of pay and benefits.

At the beginning of the month, the air traffic controllers union and Aena resumed negotiations over a collective agreement.

© 2010 AFP

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