Congestion in Pakistan’s airspace, particularly after midnight until 6 am is a big hazard for the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs), an official of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) told Business Recorder on condition of anonymity, here on Thursday.
Captains of two foreign airlines were heard, only last week, complaining on Radio Telephone (RT) to the air control tower that they were not being responded and allowed to land due to heavy engagement of the ATCs.
The reason is that one controller handles at-least 45 to 50 flights and puts in long hours which is against the laid down International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and rules which Pakistan has adopted, the official said. In a meeting held with the CAA officials early this week, the ATCs reportedly made it clear that they would not be responsible for any mishap or safety of the aircraft as they were overworked.
He confirmed that same concern had been expressed by Pakistan Air Traffic Controllers’ Guild (PATCG) in a letter received by the Director General, CAA late last month. Disclosing the contents of the letter, the official said: “PATCG had highlighted that ATCs are compelled to perform duties for more than two hours at a stretch. These duties could stretch to as long as 7-10 hours without break due to acute shortage of trained air traffic controllers; which is dangerous to safety of air traffic.”
ICAO’s circular on human factor stipulates: “An important live-wire issue is that of controllers becoming tired or fatigued, because when people are over-tired their judgement can be impaired and the safety and efficiency of the ATC service can be put at risk. This is unacceptable both in terms of safety, efficiency and performance as well as occupational health and well being.”
PATCG had informed the Director General CAA: “The situation is alarming for CAA and need your immediate attention. It is also a violation of ICAO standards and recommended practices, which the state of Pakistan has opted as its national rules.” Lahore based staff had also informed the CCA Director General about the most important areas where immediate attention/rectification is needed to avoid any untoward incident.
Following issues have already been brought to the notice of all concerned. The area controller West Lahore is over burdened due to: large area to be scanned on the radar, limited/poor radar coverage, complex route structure, numerous conflicting points in close proximity of Pak-Afghan border, and increased number of conflictions as a result of RVSM in KAB airspace.
The creation of one more sector in Lahore Area Control Center (ACC)/realignment of routes to reduce the confliction points near Pak-Afghan border had been a requirement which has been highlighted a number of times by the controllers and various safety assessments. Similarly on the question of poor /limited communication: No discrete stand by frequency available for individual sectors, and no stand by satellite communication available in case of satellite outage. Due to shortage of manpower, the much needed extra sector could not be established.
According to the minutes of an executive committee meeting held in 2010, in a presentation given by Deputy Director General, CAA the committee was apprised that Air Navigation System (ANS) was one of the three core functions of the CAA and provision of Air Traffic Services involves the highest possible level of safety and reliability of the air navigation system.
The success or failure of ANS depends solely on the role of ATCs as their responsibilities include: safe, efficient, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic.
The job of ATCs is ranked as one of the top three most stressful jobs in the world. The stress level through which an ATC passes could be well appreciated by the increasing density of traffic (like in Karachi ACC sector west traffic rises up to a maximum of 45 to 50 aircraft at a time on one frequency including other performance.
Consequently, the CAA is currently facing major safety and efficiency challenges to air traffic operations in Pakistan air space.
Majority of the ATCs in Pakistan are least interested to stay in this profession rather tend to escape by seeking managerial assignments elsewhere in the CAA to avoid more stressful and demanding job, legal implications of incidents/accidents, consequence of stress on their health, unrest, absence of human factor contrary to ICAO recommendations, lack of social support, poor reliability of equipment and lack of redundancy, suspension of foreign training etc which is also resulting in deterioration of performance, morale, and trade efficiency of ATCs.—Agencies