Spanish airports return to full operation

Spanish airports return to full operation

Spanish airports have returned to operating at full capacity after the government reopened airspace and forced striking air-traffic controllers to return to work.

The government declared a state of alarm on Saturday, taking emergency measures after air traffic controllers staged a walk out on Friday, forcing authorities to close Spanish airspace for 18 hours and leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ordered the Defense Ministry to take over air-traffic control Friday night. He then issued a decree Saturday morning requiring controllers to return to their workplaces or face legal action, measures not seen since the times of the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

The strike comes against a backdrop of the Spanish government seeking to lower spending and raise taxes in order to get the nations’ finances in shape.

On Friday, it announced a series of economic measures to raise some €14 billion through the partial privatization of the national lottery and airport operator AENA, as well as the management of Madrid’s and Barcelona’s airports by private companies.

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Monday and Wednesday are national holidays in Spain, and many families travel to reunite in a country that relies heavily on domestic air transport. On Saturday alone, more than 2,600 flights were cancelled.

Flight controllers returning to work after a sudden stoppage which shut down Spanish air traffic face a huge backlog of thousands of passengers stranded at airports.

Flagship carrier Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA cancelled most flights on Friday and Saturday, and urged passengers not to go to airports, as angry crowds overwhelmed customer service and call centers of most local airlines. The company also had to secure lodging for 4,000 clients, many of whom had lost connections to transatlantic flights.

International airlines also were forced to cancel or reroute most of its flights in and out of Spain.

The dispute with controllers escalated after the government introduced on Friday new criteria for calculating working hours for them. Controllers say the new regulations will severely limit parental and sick leaves.

Earlier this year, Mr. Blanco said he would be curtailing some of the privileges of Spanish controllers, which he said were among the highest paid in Europe.