SAO PAULO, April 1 (Reuters) - Brazil's military agreed to relinquish control of the country's air traffic control system, bowing to demands from disgruntled controllers who brought air travel to a near halt this weekend by walking off the job.
The Air Force, which has long been in charge of civil aviation in Latin America's largest nation, said in a statement late on Saturday that it would cede control to a new civilian agency that will answer to the Defense Ministry.
Under the new system, the Air Force will remain in charge of defending the country's air space from potential threats but air traffic controllers will no longer be subordinated to the military. The change will allow for higher salaries and more flexible workdays.
The decision to create an agency to oversee civil aviation follows months of chaos at Brazilian airports, where travelers have regularly been subjected to long delays and cancellations.
The crisis boiled over on Friday evening, when the government was forced to shut down all airports in the country after a group of controllers at Brasilia's military-run control center went on strike to protest poor pay and equipment safety concerns.
Air Force commanders called the protest a mutiny and threatened to jail the strikers. But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva intervened before the controllers could be arrested, ordering his budget minister to negotiate a deal. ...--END