Air traffic staff shortage leads to safety concerns

Overworked air traffic controllers will continue to suffer due to staff
shortages after it emerged that only three new controllers will pass through
training this year.

The severity of the situation at National Air Traffic Services’ (NATS) £623m
centre at Swanwick, which is 40 controllers short of working capacity, was
revealed to Personnel Today by David Luxton, national secretary at controllers’
union Prospect.

NATS hit the headlines last month after it was revealed that the number of
overload reports – filed by air-traffic controllers when they feel their
workload is so high, safety is being compromised – has doubled since the
beginning of the year.

Luxton said there is no short-term solution to the staffing problems,
because it takes three to four years of training before a controller becomes
fully operational, and only three will be qualified to that standard by the end
of the year.

"Without enough staff, you have to shut air sectors. It’s like closing
down lanes on the motorway and trying to re-route the remaining traffic,"
said Luxton.

The staff shortages and resulting flight delays are now becoming so bad that
NATS is consider- ing re-employing retired controllers in non-operational
roles. Luxton said the problem was first highlighted three years ago, but was
not addressed.

"Controllers feel they have been ignored. They’ve been saying there
wasn’t enough manpower for three years," he said.

Prospect is balloting its members later this month over a proposed 10 per
cent pay rise over two years.

NATS has also agreed to a new incentive scheme to help retain staff and a
review of employee relations, communications, manpower planning and
organisational culture.

A spokesman for NATS said: "We have a number of people in different
stages of training, some of whom will be available before the end of the
year."

By Ross Wigham

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