Spain's ATC Mess Boils Over (Again)

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Friday, air traffic controllers in Spain staged a massive "sickout" just three months since they last voted to strike, nearly one year since reports of their sometimes $1 million-plus salaries, and amidst economists' musings that the country may require a financial bailout. Roughly 90 percent of controllers abandoned their posts Friday, resulting in a massive shutdown of airports and airspace, affecting thousands of flights. Three controllers did arrive to Madrid's Barajas airport to aid arrivals there. The controllers have been involved in contract negotiations over work conditions, wages and privileges. The talks intensified early in 2010 when the government proposed restricted overtime. That alone effectively reduced the average salary of Spanish controllers from about $463,000 to $264,000 annually, according to the WashingtonExaminer. The controllers union now says the country's 2,300 controllers are overworked and have already put in their maximum number of hours for 2010. They also timed their strike for increased impact.

To take advantage of national holidays Monday and Wednesday, many Spaniards booked five-day weekends. Spain's air traffic authority estimates that roughly 4 million passengers booked to fly during the holiday period. Controllers in Spain are prohibited by law from striking and they did not provide warning of Friday's sickout, though they have warned about a similar possible action over Christmas. The controllers have not won much public sympathy since January of 2010, when reports said that "Spain's air traffic controllers can earn ten times more than their Prime Minister -- and more than 50 times the average salary." At that time, nearly half of Spain's controllers were paid more than $360,000 per year. Spain enacted "austerity measures" in February to narrow its budget gap, creating speculation on its fiscal stability. Friday, the country's Finance Minister Elena Salgado told the BBC, "Our fiscal adjustment is on track ... We have done all the things that we had to do with our financial sector."