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Spanish Air Traffic Controllers Returning to Work, But Disruption Continues

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Iberia planes are seen parked up as passengers wait at Barajas Airport in Madrid, 04 Dec. 2010

Iberia planes are seen parked up as passengers wait at Barajas Airport in Madrid, 04 Dec. 2010

Spanish air traffic controllers are returning to work following a wildcat strike. However, the disruption at airports continues and Spanish authorities have declared a "state of alarm" and some airlines have cancelled flights to and from Spain until Sunday.

Spain placed air traffic work at the nation's airports under military authority Saturday in an unprecedented emergency order. Authorities also threatened jail terms for those who refuse to go back to work.

The country's air space has been in chaos since Friday due to a wildcat stoppage by air traffic controllers that largely closed the air space. Hundreds of thousands of travelers have been left stranded on a busy holiday weekend.

The labor action was sparked by a dispute over working conditions and a government edict that cut the controllers' work week to 32 hours.

Following an emergency cabinet meeting and the announcement of a "state of alarm," Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba accused air traffic controllers of "blackmailing all of our citizens." He also apologized to irate travelers who spent the night sleeping at airports.

Rubalcaba has said the state of alarm will last 15 days, but could be extended if parliament approves it.

Following the order placing air traffic duties under military authority some controllers have started returning to work. But it remains unclear when Spain's airports will be fully back to normal.

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