There’s an alarming story coming out of North Macedonia, whereby an air traffic controller was beaten up while on the job, as dozens of aircraft were under his control (thanks to Nicholas for flagging this). This seems to be a huge story in North Macedonia, but hasn’t yet been picked up globally…
In this post:
Air traffic controller gets attacked in Skopje
This incident involves a controller working for North Macedonia’s M-NAV air traffic control service, specifically at Skopje International Airport (SKP). On Thursday, January 4, 2024, several people entered the air traffic controller center unauthorized, and beat up an air traffic controller while he was on his shift. At the time of the incident, there were 36 aircraft in this airspace.
The vehicles with the attackers weren’t stopped by the security agency that’s hired to protect the perimeter of the center, and also weren’t stopped by M-NAV security in the building itself. There were reportedly up to eight people involved in this incident, and the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office has now initiated an investigation.
These people could face charges for forcibly entering the M-NAV premises with the intent to commit violence against an individual, and disrupting air traffic services.
Why would someone attack an air traffic controller while on duty? As you’d expect, there’s some background to this story, and this wasn’t a random attack…
The political backstory to this incident…
The people behind this attack are believed to be members of North Macedonia’s Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), one of the major political parties in the country. There has been tension in recent days between M-NAV and DUI.
M-NAV officials claim that the DUI’s appointed managers have been trying to manipulate the hiring process for air traffic controllers, by hiring unqualified party activists as air traffic controllers, as a political favor, given that it’s a good paying job in the country.
The union representing M-NAV employees has raised public concerns about this, claiming that the DUI’s attempts are putting the safety of the air traffic system at risk. Tensions have increased in recent days, with ruling members of the DUI having claimed that M-NAV’s union president threatened them, leading to him being interrogated by the police.
On Thursday, the union president held a press conference where he stated that M-NAV would stop flights to and from the country if the DUI didn’t back down with its hiring plans. Then hours later, the eight people entered the facility unauthorized, and beat up one of the controllers who wasn’t onboard with the DUI’s plans.
As the union president now explains:
“The flight control facility itself is a strict space for a security facility that is of national interest to enter there, there are special security protocols. We believe that with international norms, this act in any normal country in Europe or the world would be treated as an act of terrorism. Just entering those spaces poses a risk because I don’t come to the attack, if the person was conveying those positions that at the moment had to separate two or more flight lines, then there is a risk of potential matches of those planes.”
An air traffic controller was beat up in North Macedonia on Thursday, by a group of eight people who stormed the building where the controllers work. The claim is that members of North Macedonia’s DUI party have been trying to appoint unqualified people as air traffic controllers, and the union has tried to stop that. Hours after a press conference took place making this more public, members of the DUI party stormed the air traffic control center.
There are obviously alarming safety claims here, both including the air traffic control center being stormed, plus the claim that a political party is trying to appoint unqualified air traffic controllers. I imagine if this continues, some other governments may start restricting flights to and from the country on safety grounds.
What do you make of this ATC situation in North Macedonia?