So much for “renegade” air traffic controllers causing chaos in the skies.

On Friday at its Melbourne centre AirServices Australia offered ATC officers three hours extra pay per shift at “additional duty” rates just to be rostered in advance as on-call replacements for anyone who reports absent for work, mainly during evenings or over weekends.

In recent days the chief executive officer of AirServices Australia, Greg Russell, has been blaming ‘renegades’ for calling in sick to add pressure to pay negotiations.

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Civil Air, the union, has maintained the real problem is Russell’s incompetence in recruiting and training staff during a period of high attrition due to retirements or better job opportunities abroad.

An official summary of that collective negotiation meeting is here for those who want to study a management trying to buy its way out of a human resources crisis of its own making.

At the same time AirServices was forced to agree to CASA demands for a rationing of controlled air space by a procedure for declaring “temporarily restricted areas” when there are insufficient controllers available to man the radar consoles responsible for the safe separation of aircraft between or near major Australian cities.

Under the current stop gap measures both AirServices and CASA had tried to maintain the fiction that international, domestic and private aircraft could be safely left to control their own ‘separation’ in a free-for-all situation that led to angry protests from the airlines.

That fiction is now over, after CASA officers saw first hand how risky the process was, and Qantas, Virgin Blue and the International Civil Aviation Organisation went public with their concerns.

If some tricky details can be ironed out airliners approaching zones where AirServices can’t provide service will have to apply for permission to enter, meaning rationing can be enforced to keep jets very far apart.

The “tricky” part is international air space. Australia has the responsibility to control large areas of Oceanic airspace. Jets that are mid way along very long flights to Australia cannot be denied access to “temporarily” restricted zones without compromising the compulsory fuel reserves they carry for bad weather diversions at their arrival point.

A spokesman for CASA said a starting time for the new ‘temporary’ arrangements cannot be announced unless this problem is overcome.

These two developments should be a wake up call to Treasury if not Infrastructure. AirServices is a substantial profit centre for government.

Now it is proposing money for nothing for staff just to be available for duty, and being compelled to further reduce its air traffic revenues by diverting, or denying access to, the airliners that are its customers.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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