472 flights at Balearic airports were cancelled because of the air-traffic controllers. | Archive

The chaos caused by coordinated action by air-traffic controllers in December 2010 has been an issue for the courts more or less ever since. The end of the legal process is now in sight, with the prosecution service offering two possibilities. One (the more likely outcome) would be suspension of employment for two years plus a 30,000 euros fine. The other, on the grounds of sedition, would be for an additional four years' imprisonment for each of the 82 controllers who have been charged. The last time there were charges of sedition followed the failed coup in 1981.

The background to this was what the prosecutor, Amparo González, has called a "pantomime". There was a labour relations conflict between the national government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the air-traffic controllers which escalated at the start of December 2010. An assembly of 2 December called by the UCSA union in the Balearics considered a strategy of "pulling the plug", meaning that from 3 December controllers started a process of stopping work, claiming medical reasons. This was the pantomime.

Over two days, 472 flights at the three Balearic airports were cancelled and Spanish airspace was closed. Normality returned when the government brought in the army and the Guardia Civil. With their intervention, the controllers returned to work.

The prosecution service is calling for compensation for more than 300 people who were affected and who have been identified in the case against the controllers. The amounts are typically for some 3,000 euros for damages and for having missed events, such as concerts, which had been booked. In one instance, the demand is for 60,000 euros for a passenger whose mother died and who was unable to get to her funeral.