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Situation in Spain

UPDATE: Read the IFATCA press release on the situation: (english)  | (spanish)


The media has widely reported that air traffic controllers in Spain are on strike. As is not unusual in these situations, the reality may be different from what is reported. According to infromation we have, the controllers' union (USCA) did not call for a strike: controllers walked off the job or did not show up for work in response to the latest Royal Decree issued on 3 December 2010, which cancelled the previous decree.


Air Traffic Controllers in Spain were placed under imposed working rules through a Royal Decree issued in January 2010, following the breakdown of social dialogue between AENA (the service provider) and the controllers. The Decree unilateraly specified working conditions, including the maximum number of hours worked per year. The latter was to avoid having to pay controllers overtime. It was evident even then that this was not sustainable and that a lot of controllers would run up to the maximum number of hours before the end of the year...

On 3 December 2010, the Spanish Authorities issued a new Royal Decree that essentially removed the few safe guards in the previous decree. This was a direct realization of what was previously predicated – the previous decree was unsustainable.

New Royal Decree

On Friday afternoon, at 1700 UTC, the Spanish airspace was shut down for all commercial air traffic after the controllers on duty walked out and others did not report for duty. There are controllers on duty to handle special flight or emergencies.

Spanish President Zapatero reacted by announcing that controllers would be placed under military command.

State of Alarm

At 11:00 UTC 4 December 2010, the Spanish Minister for Internal Affairs announced on television that a “State of Alarm” had been declared – applicable to air traffic controllers only. This means that for the next 15 days air traffic controllers are under military mobilization.

Controllers return to Work

At 13:00 UTC USCA requested that air traffic controllers return to work. Flights are slowly resuming, but the dispute will continue.

It appears that the Spanish situation is set to change the way European Air Traffic Control and more specifically the social dialogue with controllers is handled. While not driven to these extremes, the manner in which industrial actions were handled in other countries in the recent months, highlights this... It also illustrates that, when it comes down to it, governments have little or no regard for safety, but are more concerned with image and money.

More to come as soon as we learn more.