SL’s safety ratings first in South Asia : No acute shortage of ATCs | Sunday Observer

SL’s safety ratings first in South Asia : No acute shortage of ATCs

Katunayake Airport Air Traffic Control Tower

The issue of the shortage of air traffic controllers in the country has been sorted out with discussions held with relevant authorities, a spokesman for the Air Traffic Controllers’ Association said, in response to a media report last week, that there is a threat to security related to air traffic control due to a dearth of air traffic controllers in the country.

“The matter relating to the dearth of air traffic controllers have been solved, and the Association does not wish to discuss the issue further,” an official of the Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (ATCA) said.

The media report stated: “Security as regards air traffic control relating to air planes landing and taking off from Sri Lankan airports, and other planes overflying the air traffic zone has been endangered due to a severe dearth of air traffic controllers, the Air Traffic Controllers’ Association pointed out.

A spokesman for the Association said, at least a cadre of 120 air traffic controllers was needed for the maintenance of air traffic in Sri Lanka, but today, there was a cadre of only 82 controllers which was woefully inadequate”.

Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited Executive Director, Johanne Jayaratne said, its current cadre is 104 and there are 82 controllers. We are in the process of recruiting 16 controllers which would be adequate to carry out operational functions of air traffic control in the country.

He said, the air traffic control operation in the country is smooth, with no issues.

“Sri Lanka’s current safety ratings are first in South Asia, sixth in the Asia Pacific region and 28th in the world,” Jayaratne said.

DGCA/CEO Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) H.M.C. Nimalsiri said, the dearth of air traffic controllers in the country as reported is factually incorrect, and added that the CAASL had approved in 2010, a proposal submitted by the Airport and Aviation Services Ltd (AASL) of their air traffic control cadre (ATC) requirements, following a detailed assessment of the workload involved, and that cadre assessment was also subject to the perusal of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) during their on-site audit conducted in Oct 2010. The ICAO has not made any observations on cadre deficiency during the audit.

The interior of a Control Tower  

As per the assessment, AASL has a sufficient strength of ATC personnel to perform assigned duties, and therefore, the statement the Association made was not correct and the safety of aircraft navigating within Sri Lanka airspace and oceanic airspace delegated to Sri Lanka for provision of air navigation services shall not be affected.

“However, I admit there is a strong need for immediate change of their roster pattern, which split the day into two shifts viz. 8 hours morning shift and 16 hours night shift, so as to ensure that the ATC is not fatigued,” Nimalsiri said.

He said, the safety of aircraft navigation within an airspace depends mainly on three factors, viz. airspace design and organization, air navigation aids and availability of skilled controllers.

As far as the airspace within which Sri Lanka is responsible for provision of air navigation services, all three factors mentioned above are adequately satisfied and safe navigation within the airspace is well assured. The ICAO regional office conducts constant monitoring of the status of air navigation capabilities of the States in the region, and if a deficiency is found in any of the areas affecting safety, it is documented and circulated among States for immediate rectification. There is no such record whatsoever as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, affecting flight safety, Nimalsiri said.

Therefore, there is no acute shortage of ATC now, for someone to say that navigation within Sri Lanka airspace is unsafe. It is true that air traffic controllers have to work overtime, mainly, due to a problem in the current roster pattern, which I believe, should be resolved early. Also, the figures decided in 2010 may require an update and adjustments in relation to the growth of traffic within the airspace.

However, there is no drastic change in the level of traffic compared with 2010 to go for a major revision in the cadre.

Of course, there is a strong need to have steady ATC intake programs to fill the vacancies created due to annual retirements and departure of serving ATC for various reasons, as concerted effort and time is required to produce skilled controllers.

They need to be trained and re-trained periodically, with the change of technology and operational procedures to keep pace with the developments taking place globally, Nimalsiri elaborated.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka has already introduced new navigation methods for aircraft, such as Performance Based Navigation (PBN) which depends more on GPS ensuring safer navigation.

Also, steps are under way for the commissioning of Automatic Dependence Surveillance-Board case (ADS-B) for better surveillance of the aircraft not only in the skies but also on ground.

These new navigation procedures and surveillance equipment assist ATC tremendously, and consequently, their stress and workload is diminished.

“In addition, the Government has purchased an ATC simulator to train air traffic controllers more effectively.

It will help enhancement of skill levels of ATC as they can simulate any adverse or abnormal situations and practise safe and efficient handling of such occasion so as to give required competency to ATC to manage any live situation with confidence.

Therefore, it is the view of the CAASL that we have to have a fair balance of all, when workforce requirements are worked out,” Nimalsiri said.