Turkish Air Traffic Controllers at Albania’s Rinas Airport as ‘Essential’ Flights Resume

As ‘essential flights’ resumed at Tirana International Airport following a suspension of work by air traffic controllers, which was announced by the infrastructure minister Belinda Balluku on Thursday, local media have reported that Turkish air controllers have arrived in Tirana.

Top Channel TV reported on Thursday that Albanian state has ‘borrowed’ Turkish air controllers, who arrived at Rinas on Wednesday evening coming from the airport of Pogorica, Montenegro. The above TV quoted a translator of the ‘Turkish delegation’ as saying that “the Turkish air traffic controllers arrived at Rinas last night, who have come from Podgorica.”

In the meantime, it is reported by Fax Web that some persons are seen at the Air Traffic Control Tower of Rinas airport who are expected to make possible the resumption of the essential flights. It is not known who has certified them to undertake such a duty as this is considered as a question of national security. There are no Albanian air traffic controllers in the area

“Although it constitutes a matter of special importance, no one knows in whose hands the Albanian airspace is from this moment,” said the above source.

After this development, Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter that he had ‘bad news’ for President Ilir Meta. Rama said the vaccines which were foreseen to come to Albania on Wednesday will arrive on Thursday afternoon.

“Ilir, I have bad news for you: The vaccines will come today and flights resume normally tomorrow! The scheme of yours and Sali’s to block the vaccination and return of turmoil on the eve of elections failed!” said Rama in his note on Twitter.

Earlier on Thursday minister Balluku said that essential flights — humanitarian, emergency, health, diplomatic, state and military — have resumed, while commercial flights will start Friday morning. The minister did not say whether air traffic controllers have resumed work or officials have hired foreign ones to replace them.

About two dozen Albanian air traffic controllers have been questioned by police on suspicion of abuse of post following their strike over a pay dispute, a lawyer and the prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

Albania’s government on Wednesday sent troops and police to clear striking controllers out of the flight control tower and their offices.

Twenty-four controllers, out of 65 in total, were questioned by police overnight, according to lawyer Rezart Kthupi. Tirana prosecutor’s office said if they are convicted of abuse of duty they could face up to seven years in prison.

The airport suspended 19 flights on Wednesday. The civilian air traffic controllers had said their “incapability of working under stress” would continue for 24 hours.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Wednesday that the strike was illegal. “There is no chance that destructive forces, absolutely blind forces, forces of the past who want by all means to take the country hostage, stop us,” said Rama at a meeting with supporters in southern Albania. / argumentum.al