THE Spanish government said yesterday it is too early to estimate the economic impact of the weekend strike by air traffic controllers but said it would be less than that suffered during the Icelandic volcano eruption in April. “Any figure that is issued is actually premature and precipitous,” Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian told a news conference following a meeting with tourism and foreign trade officials.

A study released Monday by the Institute for Economic Studies said the wildcat strike could cost the country's key tourism industry some 400 million euros in lost revenue.

Spanish air traffic controllers called in sick en masse on Friday, rapidly shutting down the nation's airspace at the start of one of Spain's busiest holiday weekends in a protest over working hours and benefits and disrupting the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people.

Air services returned to normal on Sunday a day after the government declared a 15-day state of alert which placed the controllers under military command with the threat of jail terms for refusing orders. Sebastian said the impact of the strike would be “much less” than that suffered when a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland paralysed European air traffic in April, leading to a fall of 13.3 percent in foreign tourist arrivals to Spain.

He said the worst-hit regions from the strike were the Balearic and Canary Islands and the coast, where many Spaniards had planned to spend the five-day holiday weekend, while there was “limited impact” on rural and urban tourism and at ski resorts.

Spain's image should not suffer “as it has been acknowledged internationally that there had been an effective and strong reaction by the government to restore the situation which is determined that it does not happen again, not at Christmas or afterwards.”


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