"Malicious" strike action limits flights at Brussels airport

A strike by air traffic controllers hampered flights Tuesday at Brussels airport, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) condemning the labour action as a "kick in the teeth" after the terrorist attack on the facility last month.

On March 22, two attackers blew themselves up in the airport's departure hall, while a third set off a bomb blast at a Brussels underground station, killing 32 people in total. The airport was closed for several days and services have not yet returned to normal.

"This action by air traffic controllers is a kick in the teeth for all the airline and airport staff who have worked so hard to reconnect Brussels to the world after the appalling terrorist attack," IATA chief executive Tony Tyler said in a statement.

"It is the height of irresponsibility to cut a vital service and doing so without warning can only be seen as malicious," he added. "If we cannot count on simple human decency from such highly compensated professionals, then it's time for governments to find ways to guarantee the availability of air traffic control services."

The terrorist attacks came amid an industrial dispute between the airport and air traffic controllers centering on a reduction of early retirement benefits.

On Tuesday, a deal was struck under which air traffic controllers will gradually see their working age extended, the Belga news agency reported.

But the agreement "does not satisfy the guild of air controllers," aviation operator Belgocontrol wrote in a statement, adding that its staff were declaring that they were ill and unable to perform their functions.

The industrial action briefly prompted the airport to shut down all flight operations.

It later announced that "only a limited number of outbound and inbound flights will be possible" until 10:15 pm (2015 GMT). Belga reported that only 30 flights would be allowed.

Charleroi airport, which is located 50 kilometres south of Brussels but also services the Belgian capital, was affected too by the strike action, the news agency wrote.

Adding to the turmoil was a shutdown of the access road to Brussels airport in the afternoon after police spotted a suspicious vehicle. Belga reported that it had a suspicious registration plate.

There is no other way of reaching the terminals at present, as rail services have not yet resumed in the wake of last month's attacks.

Bomb disposal units were summoned to the area, but by Tuesday evening the perimeter had been lifted, the airport wrote on Twitter. It said that all access roads to the airport were "safe and now open to traffic."

Last update: Tue, 12/04/2016 - 22:17
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