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Jamaica air traffic controllers stay home; most flights operate normally

Most flights to and from Jamaica were operating on schedule Sunday despite a sick-out staged by air traffic controllers. The island's civil aviation agency called in contingency teams to man control towers for incoming and outgoing flights.

A union representing 90 percent of Jamaica's air traffic controllers, who first abandoned their posts on Saturday, said their 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 Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association announced Sunday that 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 a scheduled Monday at Norman Manley International Airport in the capital of Kingston, though passengers waiting for Fly Jamaica's pre-dawn trip to New York said their flight had been delayed until the mid-afternoon. 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.

Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman Nicole Robinson said "safety is not being compromised" at the island's two international airports in Kingston and the northern tourist town of Montego Bay. More than 40 air traffic controllers were scheduled for duty at the Kingston Air Traffic Control Center but supervisors and managers have so far been able to deal with the work.

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.

The association staged a strike two years ago amid another dispute over wages and other labor issues.