Air traffic controllers strike disrupts flights in West Africa

AP - Olivier Matthys

Flights in and out of airports in a number of countries in West and Central Africa were heavily disrupted on Friday and Saturday after air traffic controllers defied a ban and launched a "wildcat strike" to demand better working conditions. The strike was suspended on Saturday afternoon.

Controllers working under the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA), which regulates air traffic control across 18 countries, stopped working on Friday during a dispute over pay and working conditions.

Flights in and out of Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Cameroon, among other countries, were affected.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at the Douala International airport in Cameroon on Saturday morning, the country's national television CRTV reported. National carrier Camair-Co said on Friday it had cancelled all its flights due to the strike.

In Senegal, the airport departure board showed cancellations for flights operated by Brussels Airlines, Kenyan Airways and Emirates. In Cote d'Ivoire, eight flights scheduled to leave the commercial hub of Abidjan on Saturday were cancelled.

The strike action had been expected to last for 48 hours.

But the Union of Air Traffic Controllers' Unions (USYCAA), which called the wildcat strike, said in a statement it had decided to suspend its strike notice for 10 days immediately, so as to allow for negotiations.

"Air traffic services will be provided in all air spaces and airports managed by ASECNA from today Saturday, September 24, 2022 at 1200 GMT," the statement said.

'Minimum' service

In a previous statement published on Friday, USYCAA said that its members would cease providing services to all but "sensitive" flights until their demands are met.

A USYCAA official in Burkina Faso told AFP news agency that a "minimum service" was assured for military and humanitarian flights.

The strike action had been launched despite a ban by some governments and a number of court rulings.

On Thursday, a court in Senegal suspended the call to strike by air traffic controllers in Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire, ASECNA said.

ASECNA on Friday highlighted the fact the wildcat strike had been launched "in spite of the prohibition of the strike by all the courts.

"We have already exhausted both administrative and institutional remedies in the management of this crisis, but we have in front of us trade unionists who are stubborn to do whatever they want," ASECNA's head of human resources, Ceubah Guelpina, told a press conference.

ASECNA said it has developed a contingency plan to allow airlines to take alternative routes when certain airports are impacted by temporary staff shortages, should the strike drag on.

Paul Francois Gomis, a leader of Senegalese air traffic controllers who were on strike, said that some union members in Cameroon, Congo and the Comoros had been arrested for taking part in the strike.

(with wires)