Brussels Airport Hit by Controller Walkout After Bombings

  • Air-traffic control handling about 40 flights an hour
  • Prime minister calls strike action `utterly unacceptable'

Brussels Airport, already operating at reduced capacity as it recovers from last month’s deadly terrorist blasts, suffered added flight disruptions due to walkouts by Belgian air-traffic controllers in a labor dispute.

The wild-cat strike over retirement benefits led Brussels Airport to cancel all takeoffs and landings for about an hour on Tuesday evening and caused at least 50 cancellations on Wednesday. The staffing shortage also affected operations at Ryanair Holdings Plc’s Belgian base south of Brussels in Charleroi.

Air-traffic control is “not yet fully operational,” handling about 40 flights an hour, the airport said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called the strike action “utterly unacceptable,” adding that the walkouts “put our image and our economic situation in danger,” Belga newswire reported. “I wish we would stop sawing off the branch we’re sitting on,” Michel told reporters in Brussels.

Tighter Security

Amid tighter security following the March 22 suicide attacks, Brussels Airport currently has a maximum capacity of 225 departing flights per day, about two-thirds of regular traffic in April. The tougher checks and makeshift infrastructure restrict maximum check-in capacity at the airport to 800 passengers per hour.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents more than 250 carriers that account for over 80 percent of global air traffic, also criticized the walkout.

"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 Director General Tony Tyler said in an e-mailed statement from Geneva. “It is the height of irresponsibility.”

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