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Sun, Apr 04, 2004

ATC Strike Strangles Dominican Republic Aviation

Government Forced To Hire Emergency Controllers From Mexico, Chile

by ANN Correspondent Juan Jimenez

An air traffic controllers strike in the Dominican Republic has placed a stranglehold on that country's aviation industry, causing massive delays and multiple outright cancellations of all types of aircraft, including national and international flights of both passenger and cargo types.

The strike, which began March 31 over pay, working conditions and benefits, and which appears to be timed to coincide with the upcoming elections in May, has forced the government to take drastic measures to restore the country's aviation system. The latest reports indicate that among other issues, the controllers are asking for a 100% salary increase. In a relatively common labor practice close to national elections, the controllers are hoping that exerting pressure at this time will force the government to accept their demands, rather than see the tourism and other industries severely affected.

Initially, the country's military controllers were drafted into service to try to alleviate the backlog of flights. However, this measure has not produced the desired results, and the effort was escalated to an emergency order giving the country's civil aeronautical authorities permission to hire Spanish-speaking controllers from Mexico and Chile to restore the system to a semblance of normalcy. Reports from various sources indicate that virtually all cargo traffic out of major airports has come to a standstill, and international flights were being delayed a minimum of two hours. In some case, much longer delays were common during the day.

The director of the Civil Aeronautical agency, Mr. Carlos Alvarez, has assumed control of the Las Americas ATC center, as well as the control towers of the major port of entry airports. The ATC center remains under heavy armed guard, and only authorized personnel are allowed access to the facility.

There have also been unconfirmed reports that a number pilots of national air carriers have also staged work stoppages in solidarity with the striking air traffic controllers.



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