a website dedicated to the Airport Industry recently published an article highlighting the shortages in Air Traffic Controllers not only in Australia but world wide.  This is a position that Civil Air, the professional body representing Air Traffic Controllers in Australia, has been highlighting for some time.

The article highlights that there are times when there is Australian  airspace is not monitored by Air Traffic Control and aircraft are required to make lengthy diversions or self separate in affected areas.  The problem is known to Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) the Australian Government Aviation safety regulator. "It is happening reasonably frequently," says CASA spokesman Peter Gibson. "We are getting weekly reports on this. It's caused by a shortage of controllers usually triggered when some controllers can't come on for a shift due to sickness."  Australian Air Traffic Controllers under their Collective Agreement are required to work a reasonable amount of overtime. Controllers are also have an overriding requirement to be fit for duty and are also subject to a fatigue management process which often precludes their availablitity for short notice shift replacement.

The  Airservices Australia CEO Greg Russell acknowledges that the problem is more then sickness.  Mr Russell is quoted as saying "In the past, we have relied on high levels of institutionalised overtime, which has papered over problems, putting stress on our people and many of them have had enough. Unfortunately, I think we're now paying the price for not tackling this reform programme and what it has revealed much earlier."  Since May 2009 Airservices Australia has had the capacity to enact a voluntary on call system for Air Traffic Controllers to cover known shortages.  To this date Airservices has not chosen to activate this system which involves bonus payment equal to 4 hours pay to participants. Controllers are then to be on stand by for 5 shifts over a 3 month period.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) global passenger numbers are growing at 6% a year.  The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers estimate there is a worldwide shortage of  at least 3000 controllers.  An expert quoted in the article estimates it takes 3 to 5 years to train a controller to a good standard. Whilst demand for air travel continues to grow, supply of air traffic controllers is on a down curve. High stress and reduced financial rewards have put people off the career itself, whilst poor planning at senior level is leading to situations like the crisis in Australia.

"They (Airservices Australia) have been relying on overtime, on people working on their days off, and the system has crashed on itself," says Lawrie Cox, manager of industrial relations at the Australian Federation of Air Pilots. "People are not attracted to this industry any more. There's been so much cutting." for the full article.