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."
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.
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.
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.
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
A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts: "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."
The man below says: "Yes. You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and 42 degrees N. latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees W. longitude."
"You must be an ATC," says the balloonist.
"I am," replies the man. "How did you know?"
"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost.
"The man below says, "You must be a manager."
"I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," says the man, "you don't know where you are, or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault."
The Sydney Morning Herald released an article over the weekend, highlighting the shortage of Air Traffic Controllers in Australia. This is just one of a hand full of articles as well as an interview on ABC radio from Dick Smith, who I am surprised to say went in to bat for ATC.
A proposal put to Airservices Australia to attract and retain more air traffic controllers to airports has been met with derision, the union representing controllers says.
The claims come after airspace to the northwest of Canberra was unwatched for a total of two hours on Sunday night, causing extra work for pilots and affecting 17 flights between Melbourne and Sydney.
The Civil Air Operations Officers' Association of Australia, known as Civil Air, says controllers are increasingly frustrated by a shortage of staff.
"They're continually being asked to perform additional duty above and beyond their normal hours," Civil Air Executive Secretary Peter McGuane told AAP.
"Basically, they're working a 35 hour week and are being constantly asked to come back for, in some circumstances, multiple shifts to replace other colleagues who may be taken ill.
"Obviously that has a debilitating effect over time in terms of their fatigue levels and their constant requests to come back to work to cover unplanned absences."
Authorities were only really becoming aware of the problem as a result of inadequate workforce planning several years ago, he said.
"There simply aren't enough controllers to guarantee provision of continuous services because the system relies on constant performance of overtime and additional duty," he said.
"So in circumstances where people are unable to perform that emergency duty, the airspace has to revert to information broadcast procedures.
"The management of Airservices (then) refused to recognise this problem and failed to put in place measures to address both the age profile and the early retirement of people and now, additionally and increasingly, the fact that there are very lucrative conditions being offered overseas."
Airservices Australia had since increased the trainee uptake, which the union had welcomed, he said.
"But that's going to take some time to produce a finished product because it takes anywhere between 18 months and two years to have controllers fully weighted and able to perform their operational functions.
"We've put a proposal to the employer in order to attract and retain air traffic controllers both at the intake level and those that are currently in the workforce and in large part that's met with derision.
"So the government needs to intervene and direct Airservices that they should undertake genuine negotiations with Civil Air to solve this attraction and retention problem."
Civil Air President Robert Mason released this statement in response to news headlines over the long weekend.
"Civil Air’s vision statement represents a long term view of the direction in which Air Traffic Control and associated support services’ terms and conditions need to move in order to address the immediate and growing crisis in staffing within Australia. This problem is not isolated to our country. IFATCA, the International Federation of Air Traffic Control Associations, believes the shortage to be in the order of 3000 ATCs worldwide. Within Australia, Airservices (the Australian government body responsible for provision of ATC) has publicly admitted significant staff shortages. Civil Air believes Australia to be 10% understaffed at present.
Significant issues face Airservices Australia as it struggles to keep ATC services in operation. The global market has moved and skilled controllers are moving overseas to more lucrative positions. The controller population, like that of Australia, is aging. Unlike many other professions, controllers have a “use by” date that rarely exceeds 55 as they find it more and more difficult to meet stringent medical standards. In many locations average ages nudge towards 50 and some even further. A new employee off the street takes 5 or more years after completion of basic training to reach the peak of their skills and initial rating takes in the order of 2 years to attain. Thus a drain of skilled workers with 20+ years experience either by retirement, medical invalidity or employment overseas is not easily overcome.
Civil Air has spent a considerable amount of time and effort canvassing its members in preparation for the current round of negotiations. Conditions and salary scales within the document represent market value for ATC internationally and the supervisor scales closely relate to salaries offered to employees by Airservices mid-2007 as part of a supervision restructure. Government expectation of productivity gains continue to be met as fewer controllers manage more and more traffic. International scrutiny of controller productivity rated Australian ATC as one of the most efficient in the world. Australian ATC moves more aircraft per controller than any other location (including FAA and Eurocontrol).
The vision document does not represent a secret wish list. To the contrary it was presented in its entirety to Airservices’ chief negotiator on the first day that Airservices’ made itself available to meet, Monday, May 12th. To date no specific response has been received from Airservices regarding the document and preparation of a formal claim by Civil Air continues. We look forward to continued negotiation and hopefully an acceptable outcome for all parties prior to expiry of the current agreement at the end of this year.
President, Civil Air
June 7, 2008
A recent post on Certified Shafting contained text from the transcipt of the Senate Estimates Committee hearing held on 28th May 2008.
For the international readers "Mr Russell" is the current CEO for Airservices Australia, and the transcript discusses issues with Australian Air Traffic Controllers unlimited sick leave and our apparent abuse of this system.
I was amazed to read the Senator's comments. Clearly stating that Airservices Australia's problem lies with our unlimited sick leave. In other words, implying that it should be restricted.
Examples of other companies that allow their employees unlimited sick leave are Coca Cola Amatil and Commonwealth Bank Of Australia. Coca Cola goes as far as offering a $1500 cash bonus to it's employees who don't take any sick leave for the financial year. Even those who take up to two days are rewarded. On a smaller scale, but nevertheless still rewarded.
It is a touchy subject, sick leave. A balance between reducing the amount of "absenteeism" and allowing controllers who are unfit for duty to be off from operational roles. But still, maybe Airservices Australia need to un-stitch their pockets and offer some incentive to it's employees rather than unzipping their fly if you know what I mean. By this, I don't mean trade off our sick leave entitlements for dollars. I just mean in general. Look after your employees, absenteeism will look after itself.
Well what can I say. It's been a while since my last post. We've also been running a six man roster with five people for god knows how long.
So far we have been handling it pretty well with only one closure due to the staff shortage and that was on a weekend. Some people might argue my location doesn't need the tower manned on a weekend anyway. In the end we had to close as the only FPC controller available had reached his ten working days in a row which is the maximum.
The overtime has been pretty good. As a journeyman I don't get my fair share of it, but I have managed to clock up nearly seven hours this pay period in ED. To make the roster work with only five people, we have removed one of the shifts and run one short, with the day shift doing overtime as required.
It seems to be the trend lately with tower closures becoming common occurrence. I can't see it getting any better anytime soon. There are controllers all over the country (including myself) waiting for a transfer. That whole process has come to a screaming halt. They have to "rob Peter to pay Paul" if they want to move anyone. Some might say poor management on ASA's behalf to let it get to this point.
ABC news reported that aircraft flying between Sydney and Brisbane flew without air traffic control earlier this month because staff in Brisbane called in sick.
It meant that flights were not monitored between Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay from 5:00pm (AEST) to 11:00pm (AEST) and pilots were forced to communicate with each other by radio to avoid accidents.
Entrepreneur Dick Smith (of all people) says low pay rates are forcing air traffic controllers out of jobs. I don't quite know about that, but all those in favour for a pay rise raise your hands.
"It's just unacceptable, we have a situation where the tower at Launceston has been basically closed down because of not enough staff and there have been safety incidents there," he said.
"Avalon airport, which has over a million passengers a year, doesn't have any air traffic control in the tower at all." Now there's a funny thought. Melbourne tower just had to advertise to fill eight positions! How the **** do they think they will man Avalon any time soon? When asked by a controller recently ASA chose not to comment on the Avalon situation.
Regarding the ABC report, Air Services Australia says the use of radio communication between planes when control towers are closed is an internationally accepted practice.
That may be true, however slightly irrelevant, and the fact still stands that if something isn't done to fix these problems soon we are all going to be a tired and angry bunch of mofo's like our controller buddies in the US.
The rumour mill has been hard at work lately, with the possibility of Tiger Airlines operating out of Bankstown airport sparking some interest in the media.
Tiger Airways have recently placed an order for two Airbus A319s. A shorter version of the A320 used by airlines such as Jetstar.
Bankstown Airport has confirmed it is "possible" that some low-cost domestic airline services could start operating from its site towards the end of next year.
It really depends on your interpretation of "possible" as to how far you might want to look into it. Bankstown airport, which is located in Sydney's west, has been been the centre of such topics for some time. From an Air Traffic Control point of view, it's not just a simple "cut and run" to the nearest "other" aerodrome. There would have to be dramatic changes to current procedures and many other things to consider such as on airport fire fighting capabilities. And let's not forget the residents of the nearby area. Noise abatement is a huge issue in today's aviation industry.
Airport spokeswoman Meredith Laverty says "Just because Tiger have placed this order for A319s it does not mean they're flying in and out of Bankstown"
"The airport is not capable of handling that aircraft at the moment" she said
"We need to undertake a program of lengthening and strengthening our runways and taxiways and, importantly, a program of government approvals and community consultation."
It is confirmed that the airport currently has no agreements with any carriers (including Tiger Airways).
Yet another near miss from the FAA. The ABC News reports below.
"Two airplanes carrying more than 120 passengers narrowly averted a collision after an air traffic control trainee told a Delta Air Lines pilot to turn into the path of an oncoming plane, officials said.
One pilot flew up and the other went down, and the planes never came closer than about 400 feet in altitude and 3 miles in lateral, or horizontal, separation, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said Thursday.
Standard separation is 1,000 feet vertical and 5 miles lateral, Cory said.
A cockpit collision avoidance system alerted the pilots to the danger, in the skies east of Pittsburgh.
Delta Flight 1654 was en route from Cincinnati to LaGuardia Airport in New York Tuesday morning and was carrying 57 passengers. The other plane, PSA Flight 2273, was flying from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to Charlotte, N.C. It had 70 people on board.
The controller only had about a year on the job, said Melissa Ott, National Air Traffic Controllers spokeswoman at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oberlin.
"We watched the recording of the incident three times and each time I said, 'Oh my God,'" Ott said. "It was the closest call I have ever seen in my 18 years of air traffic control."
Cory called the encounter an operational error. She said a second controller was working with the trainee at the time.
"This ended with the aircraft taking the appropriate action," Cory said. "The controllers will be retrained."
A Delta spokeswoman said the passengers "were never in danger."
PSA is a subsidiary of Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways Group, Inc. Delta Air Lines Inc. is based in Atlanta."
Now I know I've said it before, and I'll say it again...photos of aircraft just don't seem to have the same effect compared with actually being there. I'm still going to post these pictures of a RAAF C-17 Globemaster III that paid us a visit this week.
The Royal Australian Air Force recieved their first C-17 Globemaster back in December 2006. It is a heavy transport aircraft with a carrying capacity 3 times that of a C-130 Hercules.
The C-17 this day joined for a left initial and left pitch followed by a few overshoots. We were quite impressed to see the pilot throw this thing around when an early pitch was requested to sequence the heavy.
Air traffic controllers and pilots have again hit out at Airservices Australia's inability to man towers as a shortage of air traffic controllers continues to bite.
The staff shortage struck again this week when Airservices was forced to close down its tower at Launceston all day on Tuesday because of a lack of staff.
The closure comes after similar problems in recent months in Canberra, Melbourne and Perth, as well as in regional areas ranging from Cairns to central Australia and western NSW. Airservices insists the closures are not a safety problem and says it has a strategy in place that should see short-term problems fixed by the end of the year.
But unions representing pilots and air traffic controllers have yet to be convinced. Australian and International Pilots Association general manager director Peter Somerville said the shortages should not be happening in a country like Australia. "Airspace closures should not be happening in a first world country, so obviously Airservices has a major problem," Mr Somerville said.
Air traffic control union Civil Air said the shortage was reaching a crisis point. While it was not in meltdown yet, it was not far off it, said Civil Air executive secretary Peter McGuane.
"It's pretty bad," he said. "There's an acknowledged shortfall by Airservices somewhere between 22 and an additional 16, depending on how you define them. "We think it's a bit more than that and it's got the potential to go a bit higher."
The problem prompted air traffic control union Civil Air to write a scathing letter to Airservices last year that claimed it was leaving airspace uncontrolled on "an almost daily basis". Civil Air also accused Airservices of attempting to hide the problem from regulatory and safety organisations, a claim the air traffic controller has denied.
The situation again came to a head in Perth last month when Qantas cancelled flights to Perth after the air navigation organisation was unable to man the tower for three hours.
Airservices blamed the lapse on sickness and said pilots had to self-monitor the air space during this time.
However, Qantas chief pilot Captain Chris Manning said that the airline had deemed it unsafe to operate in the area because downgrading of controlled air space would affect "critical ascent and descent profiles".
Civil Air's Mr McGuane said the problem was because of poor planning by Airservices and a high demand for controllers around the world. He said Airservices was already unable to replace air traffic controllers who fell sick, and the situation could get worse if more were attracted overseas.
"A lot of people have applications for positions overseas, and if they're successful in those, we think those numbers could blow out vastly and we would then be in a meltdown situation," Mr McGuane said.
He said the knock-on effect of the recent Perth closure had affected 25 aircraft, including one plane transporting government ministers to the West Australian capital for a cabinet meeting.
"Since then other places have closed intermittently," Mr McGuane said. "Melbourne tower has closed a couple of times, Launceston has been on and off for short periods due to staff shortages."
In addition to the safety issues, airlines are increasingly angry that air traffic control delays are combining with bad weather and other factors to significantly degrade on-time performance. November on-time performance figures of 79.9 per cent for departures and 77.4 per cent for arrivals were well below the long-term average, with December and January figures also expected to be down.
One airline has estimated that delays due to air traffic control problems have risen by almost a third.
Airservices concedes that poor planning prior to the arrival of the current management contributed to the issues, and notes that the problem has been exacerbated by the global shortage of controllers.
Airservices spokesman Terry O'Connor said the air navigation provider needed 894 people on consoles directing traffic and a further 106 for specialist support roles.
Mr O'Connor said Airservices was currently short 22 people on consoles and 14 in the support roles. He said Airservices had put a lot of effort into expanding its Melbourne training facility and had increased the number of courses. But he noted that it took 45 weeks to complete the course and graduates were under supervision for another three or four years.
Airservices was also hiring from overseas, but these recruits also needed additional training. It was trying to entice back Australians working overseas and attempting to attract military controllers.
Mr O'Connor said that provided Airservices was not raided by overseas operators, it expected to have filled the shortage by the end of the year.
"All up, we expect to put 98 people through this year and by the end of this calendar year, barring unforeseen circumstances, from those 22 shortages we expect to have a surplus of five," he said. "But we're maintaining that higher training regime and tempo in 2009 as well because we know we have some people coming up for retirement etc."
Mr O'Connor said the other problem for Airservices was that the shortages applied to certain sectors. He said Airservices had been hit by a bad flu season last year, and had some people who had long-term illnesses.
"If they're not well enough or they're fatigued, we don't want them on a console -- it's safer not to have them," he said.
In the case of Launceston, Mr O'Connor said one of seven staff based there was on long-term medical leave and two others had been suffering from poor health. (Civil Air Note: Launceston has only 5 controllers total)
This had affected rosters and meant that sometimes in the past two months no one had been available to fill in when a colleague was sick.
"What happens effectively then is it goes to class G (airspace) and the same procedures operate as within Port Macquarie, Ballina or Bundaberg, for example," Mr O'Connor said.