The hot topic of just about everyone in aviation's conversations lately is the CASA directive regarding GAAP aerodromes. For those that don't know, there have been a few changes to how things operate at GAAP aerodromes and more dramatic changes scheduled in for April next year.

The first, and probably most significant change is that an Air Traffic Controller may only allow a maximum of six aircraft in the circuit at any one time, including departures and arrivals sequenced to the runway. This "cap" is applicable for fixed wing aircraft only and does not include helicopters. The ATC may also increase this number to a total of seven aircraft at their discretion, with an additional departure. Arrivals shall have priority over departures.

So how has this affected the daily operations of a busy GAAP aerodrome?

From an ATC point of view, the first issue that was raised is the distraction of constantly having to monitor how many aircraft on frequency.

At the point of full capacity it can be quite an effort. Noting that helicopters are not included, it is not uncommon to have 10+ aircraft on frequency with a stream of arrivals and with departures waiting at the holding point. The controller must monitor when a departing aircraft crosses the CTR boundary, freeing up space for another aircraft to be given a clearance.

It is also important that ATC monitor the inbound reporting points for potential arrivals. Clearing too many aircraft for take-off can result in arrivals exceeding the "cap" and those aircraft being required to hold outside controlled airspace and wait for a clearance.

The other factor these changes have had a huge affect on in the tower is staffing. Previously, during times of reduced traffic, Air Traffic Controllers would combine the ADC frequencies and operate with reduced staffing to facilitate breaks from the console (it is a requirement that a controller does not work in an operational position for longer than 3 hours at a time). The one controller would allow up to four aircraft in the training circuit on one frequency, and arrivals and departures on the other. This is no longer acceptable.

From a pilots point of view, the new procedures mean increased holding outside controlled airspace during times of heavy traffic, and restrictions of operations like training circuits. Some might argue that restricting the circuit to six aircraft is a good thing, as it is a better training environment. But doesn't the increased holding of aircraft outside controlled airspace defeat the purpose of what they are trying to achieve in the first place? Safer general aviation?

There is no doubt that the control zone is a safer place to fly now. But I don't think that was the problem. The problem lies OUTSIDE controlled airspace.

So how can CASA solve the problem of General Aviation? Let me tell you now, Class D isn't the answer. Talk about complicating things. Let's look at licencing.

My opinion is GAAP works. I can squeeze more than a dozen aircraft into that tiny control zone. Give me 12 competent pilots and I'll guarantee no issues. But as soon as you put one moron amongst them, the system doesn't work. Even with our new cap of six aircraft it can be difficult.

The fact is, there are just too many incompetent pilots flying around GAAP aerodromes. It is quite obvious from the tower that some don't read the documents, don't read their NOTAMS. It's a disgrace.

My Life And ATC's Rules To Licencing

  1. Don't give a pilots licence to someone who shouldn't have one
  2. Take the licence away if they can't operate safely
  3. Don't give a pilots licence to someone who shouldn't have one!
So lets clean up this licencing mess and the rest will take care of itself. And while you're at it CASA, have a quick listen to some of the tapes from all the ESIR's we are submitting of incidents resulting from pilots not understanding English. I'm sick to death of that too.

Media Release - Christmas Industrial Action Ruled Out

Australian air traffic controllers are today working out of contract after their three-year certified agreement expired yesterday, without a fresh agreement in place despite months of negotiations.

However, meetings of air traffic controllers in all states have today decided not to exercise their right to notify a bargaining period in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Air traffic controllers will continue to work significant amounts of overtime over the Christmas-New Year period as a result of staff shortages.

A meeting between Civil Air and Airservices Australia negotiators is scheduled for tomorrow in Melbourne.

Civil Air Executive Secretary Peter McGuane says the employer Airservices Australia has failed again, but the travelling public has suffered enough in 2008.

"The high incidence of uncontrolled airspace in 2008 has reduced Australian skies to third-world standards.

"Major airlines refuse to fly through uncontrolled air space, either delaying flights or wasting time and fuel to fly around affected sectors.

"At times this has caused chaos, with major centres like Sydney and Melbourne closed for hours because there are no air traffic controllers available to work.

"Airservices has failed to recruit enough new staff to replace those retiring or being lured overseas by lucrative contracts, and could not even provide adequate training facilities for those it did recruit.

"Airservices makes a profit of more than $100 million, but internal reorganisations and staff shortages mean it simply cannot cover the rosters to keep Australian skies safely monitored.

"While air traffic controllers are frustrated that their employer could not complete negotiations by a date set three years ago, they don't want to cause any stress for passengers over the Christmas-New Year holiday period."

The Real Numbers

The allegations have been flying recently in the latest of the Air Traffic Control crisis in Australia.

Airservices Australia management have claimed that airspace closures are due to a "renegade" bunch of Air Traffic Controllers deliberately masterminding Australian airspace closures by way of unjustified sick leave. This allegation comes after the company only recently circulated information internally, indicating that sick leave has remained substantially unchanged across the past three years but the overtime take up to cover staff absences and systematic shortfalls has decreased.

With certain company figureheads dragging it's employees outstanding reputation through the mud, it is no surprise that those same employees are reluctant to help prop up the company that is stabbing them in the back while controller numbers fall.

Who is to blame?

Airservices Australia only recently claimed that there were 972 operational controllers in Australia. This number being only a handful short of the full capacity required.

An internal survey and audit conducted by Civil Air reveals a different story with only 753 full time equivalent controllers covering traffic roster lines.

So where did the other 220 or so go?? And if this is the case, how much harder are your Air Traffic Controllers working to keep you safe?

Sydney Terminal Control Unit has suffered a 20% decrease in staffing numbers since 2002. In the same period of time productivity has increased by over 57%. With figures like this, it is no wonder Australian Air Traffic Controllers are moving to overseas locations and into larger salaries.

Media Release - A response to Airservices Australia

Press Release - July 29 2008

A response to Airservices Australia

Recent allegations by Airservices CEO Greg Russell that controllers are deliberately closing airspace are baseless and insulting to the professional Air Traffic Controllers of Australia.

Air Traffic Control is the business of providing safe passage of aircraft throughout the airspace administered on behalf of the Australian people. Civil Air and its members take this responsibility extremely seriously and despite years of staffing reductions, corporate and operational restructures, Australian ATCs have continued to provide a service that on world standards is second to none. Recent analysis shows Australian controllers to be amongst the most productive in the world.

The increasing rate of closures and service reductions is symptomatic of a system slowing failing despite the efforts of those that actually provide the services. Controllers and support staff are constantly required to bridge gaps in coverage by way of overtime or handling multiple pieces of airspace alone where risk modelling has already determined a need for 2 or more controllers to manage the workload.

The onset of the current ATC malaise corresponds closely with the latest management restructure in which over 100 operational ATC Supervisors were appointed as front line managers commencing March 2007. Significantly, these supervisors were previously part of the coverage of ATC rosters, day in day out helping with the workload of providing an ATC service. Since the restructure the vast majority of these new managers have been limited to purely supervisory tasks, no longer licensed to provide air traffic control at the workface. The direct impact of this has been a reduction of available ATCs to cover roster shortfalls.

In parallel with the management restructure Airservices, the government owned business responsible for delivery of ATC, commenced a restructure of airspace and the controllers that operate it. This requires virtually every controller in major centres to retrain for new airspace and procedures. Quite apart from the obvious additional workload associated with the actual training the effect is to vastly reduce the flexibility of rosters as controllers drop qualifications in one area to train for those in another.

Airservices currently quotes a staffing shortfall of 17 controllers plus another 14 in critical operational support positions. They have also publicly admitted to long term systemic reliance on overtime to keep the system afloat. There is no provision for staff absence (sick leave or other) except by way of utilising overtime. Airservices has identified a requirement to carry staff at 110% of minimum operational requirement simply to remain viable. This places the shortfall at approximately 100 staff.

Despite figures quoted it appears that the average sick leave per full time employee in the public sector is between 8 and 9 days per annum (as at 2006). The figure for ATCs is approximately 11.5 as quoted internally by Airservices. This is for a workforce that provides shift working coverage 24 hours a day 365 days a year and is subject to stringent medical requirements and fitness for duty standards far above the public norm. ATC sick leave figures equate closely with those in other similar shift working environments such as nursing and policing. A controller who is not up to the legal standard is a potential danger to everyone and must stand themselves down from duty or face strict penalties defined in Civil Aviation Safety Regulations.

Air traffic controllers are provided with sick leave as required. This was provided by the employer as an exercise to reduce a corporate liability for accrued sick leave and was not a position that Airservices was tricked into. Indeed they initiated it. Controllers must provide a certificate for any sick leave exceeding 1 day and will require a full medical examination if absent for longer terms. Airservices' own figures show that shifts requiring coverage (for all reasons including sickness) are roughly stable and that, per controller, the take up of overtime is slightly increased.

Controllers do not want to be part of a failing system. They are proud of the service they provide and their ability to do it. That some are forced to seek employment overseas or retire early simply because they can no longer cope with a system that fails to support them and blames them for its shortcomings is symptomatic of how bad things have become. There simply are not enough controllers to keep the system running.

Robert Mason
President, Civil Air
July 27, 2008

Media enquiries should be directed to:
Robert Mason, President 0403 153 400; or
Peter McGuane, Executive Secretary 0412 538 336