By Humphrey Carter
PALMA

THE Balearic government yesterday applauded the decision in Madrid to extend the state of alarm until January 15 to prevent air traffic controllers from causing any more air traffic chaos over the festive period.

The Spanish Parliament yesterday approved a government proposal to extend the emergency measure that will keep the country's air traffic control under military authority over the busy Christmas holiday period.

Lower house deputies voted 180 in favor, nine against and 131 abstentions to extend the decree until January 15.

The measure came into force December 4, a day after air traffic controllers staged a 24-hour wildcat strike that closed Spain's airports and left 600'000 travellers stranded.

The measure, which was due to expire this Sunday, put the military in charge of air traffic control, and obliged controllers to return to work or face possible jail.

It was the first time Spain had implemented the “state of alarm” measure since the country returned to democracy in 1978 and yesterday, backing for the extension came from all sectors, in particular the airline and tourist industries which claim to have lost over 100 million euros as a result of the covert strike. The President of the Balearics, Francesc Antich, said that the extension was vital in order to provide the “maximum security” to the airlines, the tourist sector and the travelling public over this busy period. “Any decision in the best interests of the general public and business is welcome,” Antich said.
The President stressed the importance of air traffic for the Balearics and the Canary Islands and said that he hopes the long running dispute with the air traffic controllers is properly resolved as soon as possible.

Balearic airports were the worst affected in Spain by the wildcat strike with tens of thousands of people unable to get off the islands for the long bank holiday and over 1'000 claims for compensation have been already submitted to the consumer affairs department at Palma airport.

But, despite the extension of the state of emergency, the fall out of the strike is going to take a long time to clear with the Spanish association of airlines threatening to sue the airport authority AENA for over 100 million euros for losses incurred by “poor management” throughout this year which has been dogged by work to rules and protests by the air traffic controllers, some of which have already begun appearing in court.

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