Spanish travel chaos fears after strike threat

The European Commission has been urged to step in to prevent air traffic chaos this Easter amid threats of a series of strikes by Spanish airport staff.

A dispute involving AENA, the Spanish state-owned firm which runs Spain's key airports, could mean a total of 22 days of stoppages starting at Easter and spreading into summer.

And although AENA says baggage handlers and air traffic controllers will not be affected, Ryanair demanded EU action to prevent a repeat of the air travel industry misery which blighted flights across Europe last year.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, speaking in Madrid, said: "Europe's airlines and passengers suffered at the hands of air traffic control providers throughout 2010.

"Now, ahead of yet another Spanish strike, Ryanair is calling on the EU to take action to prevent further strike action. Ryanair will not allow its passengers to be inconvenienced further by the selfish strike action by AENA workers."

The planned stoppages are a protest against Spanish government plans to sell off parts of the company.

Strike organisers intend beginning action on April 20, disrupting Easter weekend holiday flights. They have earmarked dates in May, June, July and August for more industrial action, involving airport runway staff.

Mr O'Leary insisted: "Action must be taken at EU level to ensure that the 'right to strike' is removed from essential airport services, and competition must be introduced across Europe's air traffic control providers to ensure that a strike in one country is not be allowed to disrupt millions of passengers' travel plans."

Ryanair is now pressing for open competition in national air traffic control systems, as part of a European network which would allow one country to manage the airspace of neighbouring countries to prevent flights being cancelled or delayed during industrial action.

The airline says European airports services are essential and should be protected by anti-strike clauses.

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