Egypt's air traffic control officers to shutdown airspace Thursday

Sherif Tarek , Monday 6 Jun 2011

Air traffic control officers announced a four-hour strike for Thursday as they threaten to shutdown airspace in protest at corruption and poor working conditions

Airspace shutdown on the cards

Around a fortnight ago, air traffic control officers announced their intention to go on a four-hour strike on Thursday, 9 June from 3:00pm to 7:00pm. The strike which would lead to the shutdown of Egyptian airspace was called in protest at the lack of perks, insufficient salaries and the shady appointment of 59 officers. If their demands are not met, the officers will call for further strikes.

Shortly after the announcement, some of the officers met with Commander of the Egyptian Air Force Reda Hafez, but the two parties were unable to reach an agreement.

In 1998 and 2005, air traffic control officers staged protests to call for similar demands, but neither protest resulted in the shutdown of airspace.

An air traffic control officer, speaking to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity, believes he and his peers in the National Company for Aviation Services are inexplicably underrated in Egypt especially when compared to their counterparts in other countries.

“In most countries, air traffic control officers are at a much better level than we are,” stated the 28-year-old officer, adding: “We are underpaid, considering the salaries of the air traffic control officers anywhere else in the world -- in Spain for instance.

“We use obsolete equipment while doing our job, even though it’s an extremely critical task. Some of the radiation from the radars we use can cause cancer, yet we don’t even have medical insurance.”

Speaking on the newly-appointed officers, the same source said: “They were granted better deals than we were when we were first hired.

“Their starting salaries are much higher and they were all deployed in Cairo, whereas only seniors get the chance to work in the capital. We all started working in other cities; this is quite unfair.

“None of them are competent and some of them are women even though women are generally unable to take up such jobs due to many reasons. For instance, female officers will officially take no night or overnight shifts; that doesn’t make any sense.

“We will cause an airspace shutdown for four hours and will do so again if they don’t respond to our demands.”

On the other hand, Minister of Civil Aviation Ibrahim Manaa deplored Thursday’s strike, describing it as “unpatriotic”.

“This is against the nation’s interests and threatens the aviation system,” stated Manaa, citing the recent anti-strike law: “There is a law that criminalises strikes for those whose work is related to public services.

Manaa went on to defend the appointments of the 59 officers: “The newly-appointed 59 air traffic control officers have been highly trained in the Egyptian Aviation Academy and were internationally accredited and acclaimed.

“The salaries of the senior officers haven’t been affected by the appointments. We only had 600 air traffic control officers and we needed 100 more.

Referring to the protesting officers’ demands, the minister said: “Furthermore, there are committees within the minister of aviation to look into the demands of those who were subjected to any kind of injustice.

“All officers got their payments in full without any deduction despite the financial crisis Egypt has been witnessing since the January 25 Revolution.

Manaa’s comments turned again to patriotism and often cited fiscal justifications: “Such strikes would be unpatriotic. Egypt Air’s losses have reached around a billion, not to mention debts incurred after the purchase of a whole new fleet of airplanes.” 

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