Jamaica air traffic controllers stay home; most flights operate normally as managers fill in

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Most flights to and from Jamaica operated on schedule Sunday despite a sick-out staged by air traffic controllers, with the island’s civil aviation agency calling in teams of supervisors to man control towers.

A union representing 90 per cent of Jamaica’s air traffic controllers, who first abandoned their posts Saturday, said the protest was over a wage dispute, a lack of confidence in “the current state of essential equipment” and other problems with management of the civil aviation authority. The union staged a strike over similar issues two years ago.

On Sunday afternoon, Jamaica’s supreme court issued an injunction at the request of the government ordering controllers back to work, but there was no immediate reaction from the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association on whether it would comply.

Earlier in the day, the union said its action “will likely impact operations at the international airports as well as in the airspace for which Jamaica provides air traffic services” in coming days.

But most flights were taking off as scheduled at Norman Manley International Airport in the capital of Kingston, although passengers waiting for Fly Jamaica’s pre-dawn trip to New York said their flight was delayed until midafternoon. The Kingston airport closed at about 10 p.m. EDT on Saturday night and reopened at 8:23 a.m. EDT on Sunday due to the sickout.

“We’re not being told much, just that this disagreement with the controllers meant the airport couldn’t be open when this flight was supposed to take off at 5 a.m.,” said Pamela Hodges, who was waiting at the airport to see a friend off on the flight.

Aviation authority spokeswoman Nicole Robinson said safety was not being threatened at the island’s two international airports, in Kingston and the northern tourist town of Montego Bay. She said managers and other supervisors had been able to fill in for the absent controllers.

Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, a major Caribbean carrier, said its flights to Jamaica were operating on schedule.

Some Jamaica flights were being re-routed, including one flight through Haiti, but aviation authorities did not immediately provide specifics.