Tristan Swanwick 1 January, 2008,23739,22992743-3102,00.html

THE boom in air travel in Australia is putting strain on an air control system already at breaking point, according to the air traffic controllers' union.

And stressed controllers are deliberately avoiding phone calls on their days off so they can have a break from work.

Civil Air Australia said the introduction of low-cost carriers such as Tiger had added to the safety workload. Tired eyes..

"Airlines like Tiger don't have a huge number of aircraft but it's another strain on a system working at its limits," CAA vice-president Robert Mason said.

Airservices Australia claims that it manages operations for more than three million domestic and international flights carrying 47 million passengers every year.

The entry of Virgin Blue (2000), Jetstar (2004) and others into the market has increased flight activity.


"The amount of overtime worked is to some extent breeding more airspace closures as staff simply refuse to come to work for additional duties so they can have a decent break," Mr Mason said.

"Many simply leave their phones off or vet calls."

Airservices spokesman Terry O'Connor said safety was not being jeopardised.

"We have a fatigue management system which is designed to ensure controllers do not work more than a safe number of hours," he said.

But CAA president Michael Haines said the increased workload on controllers could lessen safety.

"Staff are constantly called on days off or asked to extend shifts to the maximum allowable, yielding tired ATC's more susceptible to errors of judgment and poor decision-making," he said.

Mr Mason said Brisbane was 10 per cent short of experienced air traffic controllers.