Minorca airport forced to stay open

Hundreds of Palma bound British sunseekers were left stranded overnight at UK airports on Thursday, having to sit out lengthy delays caused by the knock-on effect of the two air traffic controls faults which crippled European airspace. Seven flights from the UK finally touched down in Palma yesterday morning, two others suffered similar delays for technical problems. Palma airport, one of the worst hit in Spain by the Eurocontrol fault, gradually returned to normal throughout yesterday morning and at 11am, airport sources said that the delays were minimal. Although the Eurocontrol fault was completely out of Palma airport's hands, the knock-on effect on the Thursday morning fault with the new British traffic control centre, followed by the Eurocontrol glitch, left thousands of British holidaymakers stranded, conjuring up images of last year's Palma coach strike. A spokeswoman for Eurocontrol said yesterday that the technical problem in its computer system at midday yesterday had been repaired on Thursday night, but the back log of delays, which affected mainly flights in Britain, Italy and Spain, took until midday yesterday to clear. On Friday, 70 Balearic flights and a total 120'000 passengers were affected by the double-fault and Minorca airport had to stay open for one delayed flight. Usually Minorca airport closes at 12.30, but a Futura flight from the UK did not land until 4am, keeping the terminal open an extra four hours. Flights from the UK to Ibiza were also delayed. Yesterday Palma airport handled a total of 118'000 passengers and today, the quietest day of the weekend, 85'500 passengers are expected. As usual British flights were more affected than any other because the bulk of UK charter flights are overnight - German airports, for example close at night - so the delays built up, as did the misery for Britons looking forward to their holidays. Spanish airport and air traffic control authority AENA apologised yesterday for the disruptions and said that it is working closely with all the airlines in order to minimalise problems caused by traffic control faults which may occur over the summer season. Disruption can be expected at the height of the summer with air traffic controllers across Europe planning a general strike and, true to form, controllers in Marseilles will no doubt launch their annual protests which throw Balearic-bound flights into chaos.

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