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Wise heads must prevail in air traffic control changes ITF says

20 Oct 2021
Credit: Beckett P

Air traffic controllers and their unions should be actively involved in decision-making about the future of the air traffic services sector in this time of intense political and technological change, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has said.

The call to use air traffic controllers’ experience and expertise more wisely comes on the International Day of the Air Traffic Controller, and as aviation makes crucial decisions about its future in the bounce-back from Covid-19.

“Short-sighted cost cutting will haunt the industry for years to come,” said Paul Winstanley, Chair of the ITF’s air traffic service sub-committee. “Yet all around the world, air navigation service providers seem intent on cutting jobs, outsourcing, and hacking away at training budgets. Covid-19 was a disaster for aviation but ill-informed decisions made in this period of recovery could create an even bigger disaster.”

Liberalisation does not help

Air traffic controllers have been crucial for world health and the global economy. They stayed at work during the pandemic, ensuring that vital medical supplies could be distributed. Yet there were enormous pressures to cut costs because of dramatic reductions in the number of flights (services are generally funded by a fee for each flight).

“Air travel is growing again,” said Winstanley, “and already demand has started to outstrip supply. But instead of growing services to match, many providers are using Covid-19 as an excuse to talk about further liberalisation, centralisation and cost reduction.

“This does not help the air travel industry at all. We’re taking the wrong path, one that will further de-stabilise air traffic services as a whole.”

Research to offer stable air traffic management

The ITF recognises the financial strain on air navigation caused by Covid-19 and continues to look for approaches that will keep air traffic control strong, and ensure passenger safety. It has started a research programme that will explore the viability and long-term sustainability of different charging models. Working with the University of Bristol, and professional staff associations, the ITF will look at the financing of air navigation service providers, aiming to offer them financial stability, more independent from airlines fees.

“This and previous crises have shown that air navigation service providers need a stable financial framework to plan ahead and yet right now we see short-sighted cost cutting across the sector,” said Winstanley. “This is why air traffic controllers and their unions must be at the table, we know our jobs, we keep the skies safe and understand what our industry needs to move forward.”