The following information is compiled to the best of our ability from information provided to IFATCA. Communication with the local controllers is extremely difficult and is likely monitored by authorities.

Early on in the COVID crisis, Albcontrol unilaterally decreased the salaries of their staff, including those of the controllers, by up to 70%. Albcontrol claims they had no choice as they are a private entity and work on a ‘cost-recovery’ basis. The controllers have been trying to negotiate ever since, without any result.

Over Easter 2021, a number of controllers declared themselves unfit for duty, citing stress due to the uncertainty and financial issues. Albcontrol management reacted promptly and aggressively, which caused further consternation and unrest among their colleagues: more controllers declared themselves unfit for duty, resulting in disruptions of air traffic services at Tirana airport.

Politicians and the Albanian government (Prime Minister and Min. of Transport) reacted harshly: they accused the controllers of collaborating with their political opponent, the Albanian President. They claim the aim was to cause chaos in the lead up to the elections later this month and to disrupt the country’s COVID vaccinations. They have even accused them of directly causing people to die by disrupting vaccines arriving in the country.

During the night of 8 April 2021,  27 controllers were brought to the prosecutor’s office for interrogation. At the time of writing, three of them remain imprisoned, charged with ‘abuse of office’ – an offence that normally only applies to civil servants, which they are not. They risk up to 7 years in prison. Two of them remain in jail; the third one was put under house arrest (as she is a young mother).

The Albanian government has passed a law, authorising “replacing the controllers, whether from outside Albania or inside”. Turkey promptly sent 12 controllers (6 TWR, 6 APP/ACC) who are currently in Tirana and have seemingly enabled “humanitarian” operations to take place at LATI until 1500UTC on 08APR (possibly using the Turkish controllers). NOTAMs closed both LATI and LAAA FIR until 0659UTC on 09APR. The Turkish controllers are there for 20 days – until after the Albanian elections, which appear to play a role in all this – as the arguments between Albania’s president and prime minister show…

On Friday 9 April, the remaining controllers agreed to return to work, seemingly having been threatened with dismissal and similar charges to their three colleagues. They were forced to declare themselves fit for duty, raising the grave concern that they are actually performing their duty under duress. The Albanian government seems to keep the Turkish controller as a stick behind the door to pressure the local controllers, despite the fact that they are not rated on any of the local positions.

EASA and ICAO have been made aware of the situation but have remained completely silent on the matter. Note that Albania is one of EASA’s Pan-European Partners. This is a community of non-EASA European countries with which EASA cooperates on the implementation of the EU aviation safety rules – either in the framework of comprehensive aviation agreements already concluded with the EU or in anticipation of such agreements.

Timeline

06APR2021 15:18z
First Reports

Information from Albania that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting cuts in remuneration, 60-70% of ATCOs have declared themselves unfit to work under their local competency scheme rules, citing undue stress as the main cause.

07APR2021 00:50z
Tower & Airport closed

Tirana TWR closes due to lack of staff.

07APR2021 10:00z
Diversion

Neighbouring ACCs were potentially unaware of the situation in Tirana and at least one aircraft is diverted: AEE970 from Athens to Tirana returns to Athens after briefly holding in Albanian airspace. The Albcontrol ACC manager is allegedly trying to keep the centre open with minimal staffing, it is reported that those ATCOs on duty have been so at the ACC for several consecutive days already.

07APR2021
Political Reactions

Various news outlets (e.g. euronews) begin publishing details of the Albanian MA’s action and this elicits reactions from Albanian MPs. The Minister of Energy and Infrastructure declares the action as a ‘coup d’état’ attempt in order to block COVID-19 vaccines from entering the country and links it to forthcoming election proceedings.

07APR2021
Dismissals and Detentions

Details emerge that several Albanian ATCOs have not only been dismissed, but that some have been interrogated and arrested by the authorities.

08APR2021 16:00z
Turkish Controllers

Information that 12 civilian Turkish ATCOs have been dispatched to Tirana. They are staying at a guarded location in Tirana. They will be used to help open Albanian airspace 'on humanitarian grounds'.

08APR2021 17:40z
Political Games

The Albanian Prime Minister states publicly that the air traffic disruption is a political motivated move, instigated by the President and former Prime Minister. Elections will be held in Albania at the end of April 2021.

08APR2021 20:56z
Greece

Information is received that Greece is upset at the presence of Turkish ATCOs in Albania and that it is investigating to send Greek ATCOs to Albania.

08APR2021 night
Interrogation & Intimidation

27 Albanian ATCOs are arrested and brought to Police stations for questioning. Phones are confiscated and they are told that they are under surveillance. They would be released next morning.

09APR2021 08:00z
More questioning

Media reports that the former head of the Albanian Civil Aviation Authority is questioned by police.

09APR2021 09:00z
Fit for Work?

Albanian ATCOs return to work and are being forced to sign a “fit for work” declaration (apart from the three previously mentioned. One remains under house arrest, while two others remain in custody. They are charged with 'abuse of power', which is punishable up to seven years in prison.

09APR2021
Foreign Licenses Recognised

Media reports that Albania has taken steps to formally recognise foreign ATCO licences and allow them to work in Albania.

10APR2021
Charges

The three detained ATCOs appear in front of a judge, who confirms that they are to remain in custody.

12APR2021
Details on Charges

Media reports that the three ATCOs are accused of “abuse of power” due to the alleged organisation of industrial action and placing substantial pressure on colleagues to comply with a coordinated response.

13APR2021
IFALPA

IFALPA issues a press release calling on Albania to adhere to international regulations and free the 3 air traffic controllers. IFALPA issues a bulletin warning pilots about safety concerns they have in the Tirana FIR.

20APR2021
Update

Three controllers remain in custody, with a court date set for April 27th. ATCEUC have set up a fundraiser to raise money for their defence, as the assets of their association remain frozen.

In the meantime, parliamentary elections will be held in Albania on Sunday April 25th.

27APR2021

The Tirana Court of Appeals decided to convert the imprisonment of two controllers into house-arrest; the controller who was under house-arrest up to now has to been ordered to regularly report to the authorities instead (meaning the house arrest is lifted).

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