As Spanish air traffic controllers left work Friday afternoon in what has been called an “unofficial strike”, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero authorized the military to take over control of the Spanish airspace.

The order was signed Friday night at 11pm giving the military full control of air traffic and Spanish airspace.

In a cabinet meeting Saturday morning, politicians agreed to declare a State of Emergency which threatens air traffic controllers with prison sentences under military law of up to eight years.

The declaration of a State of Emergency in Spain today is the first time in its democratic history. The State of Emergency permits authorities to take over full control of public services and is intended for cases of major disasters or paralysation of public services. The State of Emergency can last up to fifteen days.

Over 600,000 flight passengers have been affected by the walkout. AENA has informed the press that Spanish airspace will remain closed until 6:00 GMT Sunday.