The issue of fatigue in air traffic control is pushing way past the levels that pilots have recently complained about to a point where urgent attention seems called for from whomever becomes Minister for Transport after the poll.

But it is also about more than air safety. It is also about family values. What is the point of keeping a job if you lose your wife or neglect your children?

This in full (with grammar corrected) is a tirade posted on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network, or PPrune.org, under the Downunder section.

Here’s a taste:

Some argue a gross dereliction of duty. Excessive overtime is now the only vehicle and strategy left to prop up a system that is close to breaking point. So stretched, that intimidation is now a widely used and desperate tactic to implore controllers to come to work on their rest days.

Fatigue management as a principle has been abandoned by an executive who have recklessly implemented mind-boggling pointless restructure upon restructure without having the staff to do it. Fatigue management has been effectively left up to you – as such it is time to act in your own best interest, and that of your colleagues.

However tired and emotional industrial relations has become in the air transport sector, there are core issues that can’t be ignored.

Air traffic controllers claim the business of keeping jets “separated” in the sky is no longer compatible with taking a toilet break, having a good night’s sleep, or being a parent.

Are they just in the same category of labour as nursing, or emergency service workers, which is vital, yet systematically underpaid, and unworthy of a decent life beyond the obligations of a workplace agreement?

Is the country that poor that it can have one of the most technologically advanced air traffic control systems in the world, yet not ensure it is adequately manned?

The problem isn’t unique to Australia, and it isn’t a function of a low cost air travel revolution either. It is a function of the cost cutting bonus culture, which has captured the air transport industry worldwide in just over a decade.

The system depends on section managers who get $X thousand in bonuses for carving $Y millions from costs. And who keep doing it year after year, until the very issues of safety and decency are stripped down to breaking point.

It is as rife in legacy carriers as much as low cost carriers, and found in the various regulators of safety or standards.

Without any dilution of greed by commonsense it is a process that inevitably ends in collapse or disaster.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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