Friday, March 28, 2008

ATC Globalization



I’m pretty sure you didn’t see this news story. Unless you’re reading the news from Botswana that is. It's about an air traffic controller conference held in Arusha, Tanzania.

3,000 air traffic controllers lacking worldwide

”Citing the immediate need for an estimated three thousand controllers, IFATCA president and CEO Marc Baumgartner said:  "This shortage of controllers, which is evident in all regions - Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and North and South America - represents a serious hazard to the flying public as we strive to maintain a safe and efficient air traffic system handling ever increasing numbers of flights. “

This dire situation is exacerbated when air traffic service providers, in an effort to keep the system running, resort to mandatory or forced overtime. Excessive overtime amid the continuing growth of air traffic results in mental and physical fatigue that threatens the health of air traffic control personnel.

"We call upon States and air traffic services providers worldwide to recognise this potential hazard and to take immediate steps to mitigate the serious risks posed", stated Baumgartner.


IFATCA is the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations , based in Montreal, Quebec. It’s embarrassing that I haven’t mentioned them before. You really should check out their forum section. The language barrier is always a problem but they are still informative.

For instance. I learned that in Mexico, controllers only work 35 hours a week. Overtime is paid at double your hourly rate and anything beyond 9 hours of overtime in a week is paid at triple time. In that I know some American controllers occasionally work a 60 hour week (6 days, 10 hours a day), I bet they’re calculating what 16 hours of overtime at triple their rate -- instead of 1 and 1/2 their rate -- would be worth.

But before you get blinded by the dollars, think about this. The fact that controllers are working overtime seems to be a problem worldwide. This statement was also in the article.

”In addressing the staff shortage and the consequent safety issues, IFATCA resolved that its member associations should discourage air traffic controllers from working overtime and to be aware of their obligations concerning the number of working hours permitted within the framework of the applicable laws. “

While many controllers are just calculating what they make in overtime, the air traffic control service providers of the world made those calculations long ago. It’s cheaper to use controllers up than it is to hire new ones. Keeping staffing to a minimum and covering the shortage with overtime is cheaper than hiring the extra body and taking on the other costs -- administrative, benefits, retirement etc. If their cost of hiring a new person is 1.5 times the cost of their current controller (and I bet that number is close), when you’re only getting 1.5 times your regular rate for overtime...well, the math isn’t very hard to figure out is it ?

Right now, some controllers are figuring out that overtime doesn’t hurt the FAA and some citizens are figuring out just how little value their safety gets in that equation. Think about it and it will clue you in on the worldwide shortage of controllers. Because no matter who is running the system -- the civilian government, the military, a private contractor or some type of combination thereof -- the calculations are the same.

(Note to CK: Thanks for the tip on the topic.)

Don Brown
March 28, 2008

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