Tirana airport

Tirana airport crisis: Attempts to end flight control strike

Albania’s government sent troops and police Wednesday evening to clear striking air traffic controllers out of the flight control tower at the Tirana airport.

It is unclear how flights might resume. The civilian air traffic controllers at Tirana airport are not replaced by members of the military.

Defense Minister Niko Peleshi posted a video on his Facebook page showing three military police vehicles outside the tower building.

“(The Tirana airport) is a strategic object of special importance for national security,” Peleshi wrote.

Army also uses parts of the airport, AP reports.

Legal action against strikers

Earlier, Prime Minister Edi Rama threatened legal action against strikers. They organized a 24-hour walkout to press for a salary increase. The strike caused the cancellation of more than a dozen flights at Tirana International Airport.

Rama threatened to fire air traffic controllers who refused to return to work Thursday — after the end of the strike.

He also accused opposition parties of backing the walkout “to stop vaccine deliveries” to the country. The country is in an electoral campaign ahead of April 25 parliamentary polls.

The strikers’ union says their salaries are 62% down over the past year due to the impact of the COVID-19. Meanwhile, over the same period, Albania’s air traffic has fallen by 57%, according to Infrastructure Minister Belinda Balluku.

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

“A building of high security (significance) cannot stay in the hands of persons who do not operate it,” she said before the evening operation. The minister says that a flight was supposed to bring supplies for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive.

Like Rama, Balluku accuses the strikers at Tirana airport of having a political agenda.

“No one can hold the country hostage,” she said.

One of the strikers at Tirana airport, Andel Trebicka, told local Fax News TV that he found Balluku’s remarks threatening.

“I don’t know how can I continue to work like this,” he said.

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