Strike shuts Belgian airspace, paralyzes public transport

Belgium has closed its airspace for 24 hours during a nationwide strike. The industrial action, which continues to Wednesday night, is also affecting police, hospitals, buses and trains.

All flights in and out of Belgium have been canceled until Wednesday night as public transport workers went on a 24-hour strike.  All sectors, from public transport to rubbish collection, postal services, hospitals and commercial centers have been affected.

Belgium's air traffic control authority said on Tuesday it was forced to close the country's airspace between Tuesday 10 p.m. CET (2100 UTC) and the same time on Wednesday.

The strike in the country that hosts many EU institutions and NATO was called by unions seeking higher wages. The strike comes in response to a collapse in wage negotiations. The trade unions rejected a proposed increase of 0.8 per cent for 2019-2020, arguing that it was too low.

Transport disruption

Belgium's air traffic control organization, skeyes, said in a statement that because of the staffing uncertainties, it was taking its responsibility "to guarantee the safety of air traffic."

In Belgium, workers do not have to say in advance whether or not they plan to work during trade union actions, making it difficult for authorities to predict availability.

Brussels Airport canceled all incoming and outgoing flights during the strike. 

Nearby Charleroi airport, a local hub for Ryanair, announced its closure. 

German carrier TUI fly operated its scheduled Belgian flights from the nearest French and Dutch airports. Brussels Airlines canceled more than 200 flights.  

No aircraft flying below 8,000 meters — the area controlled by skeyes — was being allowed to fly over Belgium. Above that altitude, a control center in the Dutch city of Maastricht was controling aircraft flying above Belgian territory.

NATO meeting 

Belgian rail and other public transport systems were expected to be hit hard during the stoppage. Some minor disruptions to international rail services on Eurostar, Thalys and SNCB cross-border trains were also being reported. 

Brussels, home to NATO, is to host a meeting of defense ministers on Wednesday, with officials from the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.

"We have no indication of any impact of the strike on the meeting," said a NATO official.

kw/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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