More Air Traffic Controllers Needed

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."