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Back to Los tiempos del apagón aéreo
Francisco B. López Jurado, Professor of Law School , University of Navarra, Spain
The times of the aerial blackout
Blackout, yes, like when the power goes out. That is what happened in Spanish airspace at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 3. The blackout caused personal, economic and reputational damage that is difficult to repair. Spain's brand suffered a harsh punishment, at a time that was far from happy. The worst thing is that this movie continues, it is far from over. At some point it will be necessary to come out of the exception of the State of Alarm. The intricate web of judicial and administrative actions that is being woven these days will take months or years to be resolved. In the meantime, the future of air navigation looks bleak. After the initial upheaval and the astonishment at the approach of a large part of the controllers, a good issue of questions remain open. One that stands out among others is: Why on Friday, December 3? Why not on Friday, December 10 or 17? Why not on January 15?
The origin of chaos
The blackout occurred on the 3rd. Hours earlier the Government had C the Royal Decree-Law 13/2010. In its second additional provision, that rule determined what should be included and, above all, what should not be included in the limit of 1,670 hours per year plus 80 overtime hours of "aeronautical activity" of the controllers. Specifically, it excludes from considering "aeronautical activity" for the purposes of calculating that limit, other work activities, such as imaginary and periods of training not computable as aeronautical activity, union leave, leave and absences due to incapacity for work. According to all indications, this was the fuse that exploded the bombshell of the unjustified massive withdrawal of work posts in the control towers of Spanish airports. Why couldn't the Government have waited for a better moment? What was the extraordinary and urgent need?
The decisive question may be rather why the Government did not regulate from the beginning what should be excluded from the computation of "aeronautical activity". That is to say back in August or earlier, in April. On August 5 the Government approved the Royal Decree 1001/2010. It established the 1,670 hours per year plus 80 overtime and "defined" what is considered "aeronautical activity". The problem, the cause of the rush, may be that, in mid-December (a few days after the 3rd), with the Royal Decree 1001/2010 in hand, using the "definition" given by the Government itself in that rule, dozens of air traffic controllers could have already reached the limit of annual hours established. These people could have affirmed in a not very supportive way, but with support in the rule of August: "I have already complied for this year", "see you later, Lucas". And that on the eve of Christmas. The mess would have been monumental. The rectification, reinterpretation, clarification, could not wait.
The question is, why was this status not foreseen when approve a rule like Royal Decree 1001/2010 was thought of? Its specific goal is precisely to fix the aeronautical activity and its rests. Its label says it very clearly, "whereby aeronautical safety standards are established, in relation to the times of activity and rest requirements of civil air traffic controllers". Its length: nine pages nine, of BOE. And all to miscalculate the shot and have to rectify, clarify, interpret, just four months later, on December 3, in one of the worst moments of the year. Or why not have thought about it better before approve the Law 9/2010, of April 14? It sets the working conditions of civil air traffic controllers. It would not have been bad at all. That was about eight months ago. The lack of foresight, however, does not justify the chaos, nor does it exempt those directly responsible for it from responsibility.