Spain Suspends Air Madrid's License

MADRID, Spain - Spain's Civil Aviation authority suspended the flying license of Air Madrid airline Saturday, hours after the low cost airline announced it was halting its operations, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in Spain and abroad.

The authority, which falls under the Development Ministry, said Air Madrid's proposal to cut delays did not go far enough to resolve the airline's problems of repeated flight delays that had devastated its ticket sales and credibility. It also said the airline had problems of security.

"This decision has been taken with total independence of the absolutely irresponsible and unilateral behavior of the company," a Civil Aviation statement said.

The carrier, which mainly flies between Spain and Latin America, announced Friday afternoon that it was suspending its operations, blaming the government for its move.

It said ticket sales had fallen dramatically since a Development Ministry statement Tuesday threatened the suspension following serious flight delays.

The two-year-old airline gave no numbers, but Spanish National Radio said up to 300,000 ticket-holders could be affected.

On Saturday, many angry passengers went to the airline's offices at Madrid's Barajas airport in search for a solution to their canceled journey, many of them aimed at visiting their loved ones during the Christmas period. An Ecuadorean man told private TV station CNN+ that he felt powerlessness for not being able to see his family in four years.

Colombian authorities threatened to investigate and possibly fine Air Madrid unless a solution was provided for hundreds of stranded passengers traveling to and from the Latin American country.

"The company should take the appropriate measures to fulfill its obligations to its passengers and relocate them on different flights," Colombian Transport Minister Ariel Uriel Gallego said in a statement.

Colombia's ambassador to Spain estimates there are about 9,000 ticketed passengers flying for the holidays between Colombia and Europe who were affected by the suspension of Air Madrid's flying license.

The company's statement announcing its flights suspension made no mention of going out of business altogether, but said nothing either about when it might start flying again.

The airline has come under fierce criticism in recent months for delays that have left hundreds of passengers stranded at Madrid airport for days.

A month ago, for instance, an Air Madrid flight from Madrid to Buenos Aires departed after a more than one-day delay and passengers stormed a runway in protest. Other passengers of a flight bound to Balearic Islands slept on board as the plane was grounded in the city of Valencia, news reports said.

Spain's Development Ministry said it had chartered between four and six jumbo-sized planes to repatriate the most needy stranded passengers. It also added that foreign and local airlines expressed interest in helping resolve the situation. On Saturday, the ministry said it had already started the repatriation of some 1,300 of affected Air Madrid passengers.

The government also said it would take legal action against the airline and claim back from Air Madrid ?5 million (US$6.6 million) in funding for emergency flights.

Air Madrid was founded in 2004 and has 1,270 employees. In addition to Latin America, it flies to London, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.


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