Poland to reduce flights if talks with controllers fail

FILE - In this June 24, 2011 photo, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft standing next to a Polish Airlines LOT plane at the Frederic Chopin airport in Warsaw, Poland. Poland's air travel authorities are warning travelers of possible flight delays and cancellations at Warsaw's airport due to a protest and some flight controllers quitting their jobs. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, File) (Alik Keplicz, AP2011)

WARSAW – Poland’s government has announced plans to drastically reduce flights at Warsaw’s two airports starting Sunday if talks with air traffic controllers demanding better working conditions fail.

Regulations published late Monday state the Frederic Chopin and Modlin airports would operate from 07:30 GMT until 15:00 GMT each day and only handle flights to and from key destinations.

The majority of air traffic controllers in Warsaw are threatening to quit their jobs May 1 after a drawn-out conflict with Poland’s air navigation authority over working hours, pay and the authority’s financial transparency.

The conflict is coming to a head at a time when world leaders have been coming to Warsaw for talks on supporting neighboring Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

Due to the war across the border, Poland’s eastern skies have been dedicated to the needs of Polish and U.S. military forces stationed in the area with the goal of strengthening Poland’s security.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki suggested Tuesday that the controllers’ union should cede on some points. He said that controllers typically work 30 hours a week and earn up to 45,000 zlotys ($10,000) pre-tax a month, which are highly favorable terms by Poland’s standards.

The Trade Union of Air Traffic Controllers disputed the figures. It said earning are much lower, and that individuals with 30 years’ experience can earn about 33,000 zlotys ($7,600) a month before taxes.

The union claimed that in the past two years, controllers have been expected to work shifts single-handedly or sometimes put in 12-hours shifts, conditions it described as a flight safety threat.

The union also accused state air navigation authority PANSA of neglecting some international flight regulations.

The labor dispute started about two years ago with the appointment of a loyalist of Poland’s right-wing government as PANSA’s chief. Janusz Janiszewski increased the working hours and reduced the pay of air traffic controllers, arguing that traffic was much smaller during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As some controllers quit and some flights were delayed at Warsaw’s airports, Janiszewski was fired March 31. A state auditing body found issues with his management, Polish media reported.