While air traffic controllers in Europe strike, fearing job cuts, industry expects shortage of controllers worldwide in future

While air traffic controllers in Europe strike, due to concerns about pay and future job losses because of the introduction of the Single European Sky, there are predictions of a future lack of air traffic controllers elsewhere in the world.  While the world’s airlines plan to double the fleet of commercial jets during the next two decades as the number of air travellers approaches 7 billion, there is an expected shortage of air traffic controllers in Asia especially.  More and more airports are planned. There won’t be enough controllers to help those 44,000 planes take off and land safely.  There are plans for a cheaper system, for small and remote airports where proper air traffic control is too expensive – get it done by remote control.  A range of cameras and sensors at the airport would relay information to controllers at a man ATC centre, who would direct the planes. The system is, in theory, sensitive enough to penetrate fog and detect wild animals on runways. It is also cheaper than hiring people to fill vacancies at smaller or remote airports. The system is already being tried at a small airport in Sweden. All rather odd, when European air traffic controllers hundreds of job cuts in the next few years. Maybe the controllers are not keen to go to a small, remote Indian airport. 



Robots May Solve the Global Air Traffic Controller Shortage

By Angus Whitley and Anurag Kotoky (Bloomberg)
April 23, 2016

The world’s airlines have ambitious plans to double the fleet of commercial jets during the next two decades as the number of air travelers approaches 7 billion. The trouble: There won’t be enough controllers to help those 44,000 planes take off and land safely.

A shortage of air traffic controllers may rein in expansion by the aviation industry and economic development by emerging nations such as India, which wants to activate hundreds of unused runways to spur growth.

There is a potential solution, and it resembles a video gamer’s dream — a wall of big-screen TVs and a few tablet computers controlled by a stylus.

Some airports are now testing “remote towers” from Saab AB and Thales SA that allow controllers sitting hundreds of miles away to monitor operations through high-definition cameras and sensors. The technology is sensitive enough to penetrate fog and detect wild animals on runways, and the companies say it’s also cheaper than hiring people to fill vacancies at smaller or remote airports.

Few Facilities

“It’s a potential game-changer,” said Neil Hansford, chairman of Strategic Aviation Solutions, a consultancy firm north of Sydney. “There’s a shortage. As you go to more and more airports, it’s going to exacerbate the problem.”

And plans are moving apace for more and more airports. Worldwide, projects to redevelop or build new airfields surpass $900 billion, according to the CAPA Centre for Aviation, a Sydney-based consultancy.

By 2030, the world will need another 40,000 air traffic controllers to handle those flights, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. Yet, there are so few training facilities in Asia, the fastest-growing travel market, that the region will have a deficit of more than 1,000 controllers each year, the ICAO said.

Rating Downgraded

Partly because of that, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration downgraded India’s aviation safety rating in 2014 and Thailand’s in 2015. The agency said neither country’s civil aviation authority was up to scratch and barred their airlines from offering new services to the US.  After India addressed the FAA’s safety concerns, its rating was restored last year.

Global demand for flight-management equipment such as digital communications and surveillance systems is forecast to reach $5.5 billion in 2020, according to research by MarketsandMarkets. The growth in fleets and flights outpaces the abilities of airport authorities to keep up, said Brian Jackson, managing director at Ambidji Group, a Melbourne-based aviation consultancy firm.

“There’s a real mismatch between airlines’ forward planning and air traffic-control forward planning,” Jackson said. “Planning for infrastructure takes years.”

IMAX Theater

That’s what Stockholm-based Saab and Paris-based Thales are trying to capitalize on. The companies can install towers loaded with cameras and sensors covering 360 degrees overlooking runways to beam high-definition video and sound to a distant control center. One controller can manage several airports remotely.

“We can see a huge interest from all continents,” Dan-Aake Enstedt, Saab’s Asia-Pacific manager, said in an e-mail. “This lets you operate an airport that might otherwise be too expensive to keep open, or help to smooth the flow of traffic around major airports as they expand.”

Saab’s system resembles an immersive IMAX theater. A bank of screens on the wall gives the impression of looking out the window onto a remote airfield, with radar blips tracked on a desktop monitor and flights managed by oversized tablet computers that respond to a stylus. Graphics pop up on the screens, and the controller can manually maneuver a zoom camera to take a closer look at the runways or the planes if an anomaly warning sounds.
First System

The technology guides planes into central Sweden’s Ornskoldsvik Airport, with controllers monitoring from more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest at Sundsvall-Timra Airport. It was the first remote system installed in the world.

Australia tested Saab’s remote tower in Alice Springs, which is almost dead center of the continent. The airport, serving carriers including Qantas Airways Ltd. and Emirates Airline, was run from a control tower 1,500 kilometers to the south in Adelaide. Airservices Australia, the government entity that employs more than 1,000 controllers, said in an e-mail that it is considering “further evaluation and potential deployment of this type of technology.”

The executive airport in Leesburg, Virginia, which has installed 14 cameras, says the concept is supported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, adding it cuts costs and improves staffing models.

Night Vision

Thales rolled out its competing version, including night-vision cameras, last month at the air-traffic industry’s annual congress in Madrid. The system also is appropriate for war zones and “previously ‘unjustifiable’ sites,” the company said.

Saab senses opportunity in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to bolster the economy includes reviving remote airstrips to increase passenger and cargo traffic, said Varun Vijay Singh, marketing director for air traffic management at Saab’s Indian business.

Only 75 of India’s 476 airports — just 16 percent — attract scheduled flights, according to a draft civil aviation policy released in October.

“India is reaching airspace congestion, and ATC services are on edge at the moment,” said Mark Martin, founder of Dubai-based Martin Consulting LLC.

Boeing Co. predicts Indian carriers will need 1,740 new aircraft during the next 20 years. Someone has to help land them, Saab’s Singh said.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “We are talking to the airport authority. It will take maybe this year to get a pilot project running.”




Controller Shortage To Increase Airline Costs, Delays, Fares

28.1.2016 (Forbes)

It is ironic that at a time when commercial airlines are redoubling efforts to improve on-time and schedule performance that a new report from the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that Federal Aviation Administration-caused delays will likely increase. The report said FAA is woefully behind on controller staffing levels at the nation’s busiest and most critical air traffic control (ATC) facilities. Furthermore, the report concluded the FAA does not have a methodology to determine staffing or how many of the 14,000 controllers will retire. About a third are eligible to retire at any given time but this has been an issue for decades.

The OIG report is the latest in a long series of government and private reports suggesting the FAA is just not up to the task of managing the ATC system. It also confirms National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) contentions system shortages are now at crisis levels. FAA has missed hiring goals in each of the last five years including a 24% shortfall in 2015 when staffing dropped to its lowest level in 27 years, according to NATCA. The union said the issue contributes to fatigue because it forces controllers to work overtime although it is adamant that staffing not impact safety. In addition, NATCA said that FAA is forcing trainees to work the positions for which they are qualified and stunting their development to become fully certified in all positions. OIG confirmed this saying trainees can take anywhere from one to eight years to become fully qualified.

………… and it continues at length …….




The controllers’ unions want to be exempted from proposed changes to how salaries are calculated. They also denounce the loss of some 1,000 jobs in less than 10 years. Link


The controllers are unhappy about staffing and retirement arrangements, as well as the prospect of job losses with moves towards a “Single European Sky”.

According to the organisation representing Europe’s biggest airlines, A4E, [Airlines for Europe] the action will take the number of strike days by French air-traffic controllers to 44 in the past seven years. That works out at an average of one day’s strike every two months. Thomas Reynaert, A4E’s managing director, said: “Repeated and disproportionate industrial action by ATC unions just means victimising passengers and weakening European airlines.”  Link


In many countries ATC is not allowed to strike or must give a notice period before it does. Ryanair are backing a petition called “Keep Europe’s Skies Open”, to garner 1,000,000 signatures to urge the European Parliament and European Commission to take action. The petition calls for the banning of strikes by ATC and the advancing of claims by mediation and binding arbitration.  Link