By Humphrey Carter

THE spokesperson for Spain's largest air traffic controllers' union - Unión Sindical de Controladores Aéreos (USCA) - Daniel Zami said yesterday that he was hopeful that a deal could imminently be reached, over night even, with Spanish airport authority Aena and the threatened three-day strike averted.

But, travel agents and the Spanish Airline Association (Aeca) said yesterday that the threat of the strike has already done considerable damage to the Spanish tourism industry.

News of industrial action by air traffic controllers later this month, was quickly picked up by the international media, especially in the UK and Germany, the country's two main, and struggling markets.

Yesterday, Felipe Navio, President of the Aeca airline association said that some flights have already been cancelled by the country's main feeder markets while others have been diverted to competing holiday destinations to protect their clients from travel disruptions at the peak of the summer season.

The hotel sector is already fearing the worst.
The Secretary General of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourism Accommodation (Cehat), Ramon Estalella, warned that a three-day strike will cost the hotel sector 40 million euros a day in lost businesses.

He explained that between 25 and 30 percent of potential clients, in particular those from overseas, have still not booked their holidays for the second half of August and consumers beginning to look for a last minute deal are going to be put off Spain by the threat of the strike.

The Spanish commercial and tourism industry is worried that, strike or no strike, serious damage has already been done at a time when all sectors of the industry are making a concerted effort to revive Spain's travel industry which has been hit by the global and domestic recessions.

According to the tourism watchdog body Exceltur, nearly 700'000 passengers will be hit on every day of the three days strike.
Obviously, by law, minimum services will have to be in place but delays and travel chaos will be inevitable.
Spanish controllers, who reportedly earn about £167'000 a year, are protesting after a recent decree increased the number of hours they can work. It also shortened the breaks that they can take during their shifts.

The USCA union currently represents some 95 percent of controllers. They said that their ballot showed that 98 percent of them voted in favor of industrial action. Although the actual date for the strike has not yet been confirmed, most say that it will start after August 16. This would affect some 300'000 Brits heading for Spain on their holidays.

Back in February, the Spanish government cut air traffic controller salaries by around 40 percent.
This cut came after it was revealed that some were earning around £800'000 a year. National Air Traffic Services said that British controllers earn a basic salary of around £60'000 and £90'000 a year.

The Director of Palma's Son San Joan airport, Nemesio Suarez, said yesterday that he is convinced a deal will be reached and the strike averted.
He said that he hopes the problem is resolved as quickly as possible because of the damage the strike will do to the local economy.
The Balearic Minister for Tourism, Joana Barcelo, is also keeping her fingers crossed.
She stressed the need for a resolution because the industry needs to be installing holiday makers with confidence in Spain.
She too said that the news of the possible strike will obviously lead to cancellations because no body wants to gamble with the success of their summer holiday.

Ryanair has called on the Spanish government “to intervene in these strikes to ensure that Spain's airports remain open for business, if necessary by instructing the Spanish military to operate air traffic control.” The LCC added that the possible strike in Spain “and the industrial action taken by French ATC workers in recent weeks” highlight the need for a standardized Europe-wide ATC system to ensure that striking air traffic controllers in one country do not have too broad of an impact. “Under a standardized Europe-wide air traffic control system, strikes would be covered by controllers in other countries, ensuring that passengers are not disrupted by the strike action of very well-paid ATC workers,” it said yesterday.


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