Pilots told to ‘exercise extreme caution’ in Albanian airspace after air-traffic controllers are jailed

Simon Calder
·2-min read
Control point: Tirana International Airport (Tirana International Airport)
Control point: Tirana International Airport (Tirana International Airport)

Pilots have been told to “exercise extreme caution” when flying to, from or over Albania because of fears about the competence of air-traffic control (ATC).

It follows a bizarre sequence of events involving controllers working for Albcontrol, the national air-navigation provider.

According to the Albanian Daily News, the state-owned organisation halved pay for controllers due to a collapse of revenue brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The controllers are said to have taken what is understood to be unofficial strike action – involving about two-thirds of staff declaring themselves temporarily unfit to work on 8 April.

Under international air-safety rules, fitness to work for air-traffic controllers is a personal decision.

Airspace and the nation’s main airport, Mother Teresa International, were closed overnight.

The organisers were arrested and the law was changed to allow controllers from abroad to work without additional training.

Two of the organisers, Armando Fezga and Muhni Mezini, were convicted by a court in Tirana, the capital, and are currently in prison. A third controller is under house arrest.

The International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (Ifalpa) warned: “There is an ongoing dispute between ATC and the authorities which has resulted in three controllers being detained.

“Although the airspace has been re-opened, the Albanian controllers still working are under extreme pressure for their future employment.

“There are reports that controllers from other states have been brought in to replace the Albanian controllers, their status as to training and local ratings are unknown.

“Pilots are requested to exercise extreme caution while operating within this airspace.”

The aviation information service OpsGroup said: “The action of the Albanian authorities should be seen for what it is – a terrible misjudgement, creating a safety risk across Albanian airspace.”

The Independent has asked Albcontrol to respond.

Normally many flights from the UK to Greece and beyond fly to, from or over Albania. They are among more than half-a-million flights using Albanian airspace in a typical year – bringing in €25m (£21m) to Albcontrol.

But the amount of aviation has fallen by around 80 per cent, with a consequent slump in earnings.

No flights between the UK and Albania are currently believed to be operating.

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