Albania’s flights resume after 2-day airport closure

TIRANA, Albania — Commercial flights resumed at Albania’s Tirana International Airport on Friday after they were blocked for two days by an air traffic controllers’ strike.

The first commercial flight with passengers left the airport for Italy on Friday at 9:05 a.m. (0705 GMT).

Only “essential” flights took place the previous day. Those included a plane bringing a batch of virus vaccines.

The government has hired Turkish and Greek controllers to replace the local ones. The controllers, who are seeking a pay rise, have avoided calling their action a strike, as that is not allowed under Albanian law, instead declaring a temporary inability to work due to stress.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said two groups of controllers from Turkey and Greece would “work together to continue the operation.” Many Albanian controllers have agreed to resume work, he added.

The government considered the controllers’ walkout illegal.

Three controllers have been detained and are being probed on suspicion of abuse of post. Twenty-seven others were also questioned.

The controllers’ union says their pay has been cut by 62% over the past year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the same period, Albania’s air traffic has fallen by 57%, according Infrastructure Minister Belinda Balluku.

The minister said air traffic controllers are paid $2,490 a month — five times the country’s average salary of about $500.

The incident has also turned into a political issue as there is a parliamentary election in the country on April 25.

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