A national strike called by Belgium’s main trade unions over a wage dispute has forced Skeyes, the country’s air navigation service provider, to close the airspace it controls for 24 hours starting at 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday. Skeyes, formerly called Belgocontrol, manages Belgian airspace—and a part of Luxembourg—below 24,500 feet.
A Skeyes spokesman told AIN the ANSP had no other option than to take the unprecedented step owing to the lack of insight into the staffing levels during the industrial action “despite all efforts made by management” up to six hours before the start of the national strike. In view of the great uncertainty about filling some crucial posts in the operational services, management determined it could only guarantee the safety of air traffic “by not allowing air traffic,” Skeyes explained.
The decision is affecting flight movements at all Belgian airports, including Brussels Airport and the regional airports of Antwerp, Charleroi, Kortrijk, Liège, and Ostend. Skeyes on average handles 3,000 flight movements a day.
Under Belgian law, Skeyes' employees do not have to declare their intentions to work or not in advance during trade union actions. A mandatory 72-hour individual notification period for employees wanting to strike is a key demand of airline trade group Airlines for Europe (A4E) as part of its action plan to reduce the effect of ATC strikes on passengers and airlines’ operations. Europe endured 30 days of ATC strikes in 2018 and 24 days in 2017, according to A4E.
The strikes have not affected overflights, because Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control center (MUAC) manages the upper airspace of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and northwest Germany.
Brussels Airlines already last week canceled its entire program of 222 flights, except for flights departing from the African and North American continents on February 13 with a scheduled arrival at Brussels Airport on Thursday, February 14. Ryanair proactively scrapped its flight program in and out of Belgium—it operates from Brussels Airport and Charleroi Airport—while TUI Fly Belgium opted to divert its planned 36 flights to and from Belgian airports to gateways in France and the Netherlands. The airlines will bus passengers to and from the alternate airports.