President orders military to take over Spanish airport control
President Zapatero has ordered the MInistry of Defense to take over control of air traffic in Spain to stop the chaos at the nations airports, as confirmed by the Vice President, Adolfo Rubalcaba. As of 23:30 Friday night, the Ministry of Defense has assumed control of Spanish airspace.
The Government has been forced to the militarization of air traffic control in Spain after 70% of Spanish Air Traffic Controllers (ATC’s) failed to turn up for work this afternoon, all citing vague “medical reasons”. Unable to meet even minimum coverage, AENA, the airports manager, was forced to order a general closure of most of Spanish airspace.
In order to take this measure, which is permitted by a decree approved this afternoon by the Council of Ministers, the Executive has given an ultimatum to the group to go to their posts, and has published an extraordinary Order in the Official Gazette, which became law at 21.30 Friday night. In addition, the decree will also order “immediately” medical checks to verify if workers are really not able to perform their functions.
As reported on the website of La Moncloa, “We require ATC’s to return immediately to their jobs and stop an attitude that is causing severe harm to citizens.”
Emergency protocols activated
The president, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, at 23:20 Friday night has ordered the military to take control of eight civilian airports to get flights running again.
The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Lt. Gen. José Jiménez Ruiz, who has joined the cabinet crisis meeting next to the Master of the military legal corps, Poyato Ariza, has been directed to take over and launch emergency protocols.
His first task is to open to civilian traffic military airports. If this is not enough, about 300 military controllers are available to take over control tower duties to direct air traffic and, if not this enough to overcome the collapse, the staff will select which flights are priorities or strategic.
If the workers, who are holed up in a hotel near Barajas, do not follow orders to return, they could face felony punishable by severe penalties, announced the emergency crisis meeting, which has been joined by the First Deputy Prime Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba and Defense Minister, Carme Chacón.
As reported by AENA, the “wholesale abandonment and lack of air traffic control personnel” forced to close, first, the aircraft traffic in Madrid-Barajas, Balearic and Canary Islands, which account for most operations, and then has spread to the rest. Given the collapse generated, AENA has recommended that passengers do not go to the airports. They have also requested that passengers request information from their companies or through their website. They have also made available a special hotline: 902404704.
Emergency services assisting at airports
The sheer number of passengers expected to fly tonight, the first day of a five day holiday (Monday and Wednesday are both public holidays in Spain next week), means that between 250,000 and 300,000 people have seen their flights cancelled and are stranded at airports.
Civil Protections units have been called to airports to hand out food and water, and keep order at the queues.
This is the closest thing to a coup d’etât I’ve ever seen
The President of the Balearic Islands hotels association says that this is an “unmitigated disaster” for the islands, which had been expecting a 70% occupation rate over the holiday weekend.
The head of the Association of Spanish tour Operators earlier today warned that the economic loss to the country would run into “hundreds of millions of euros” if flights did not go back to normal by Saturday.