THE National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) of Nigeria recently raised an alarm over the shortage of air traffic controllers in the country. The NATCA officials, who spoke to journalists on the worrisome development in Lagos, stressed that the problem could lead to avoidable crisis if not urgently checked.
NATCA is of the view that Nigeria needs about 700 air traffic controllers, but has only 400. It explained that the Federal Government has failed to meet its hiring goals for air traffic controllers for five years, which has left the number of air traffic controllers in the country at its lowest in 16 years. NATCA members are worried that this is happening at a time that air traffic is increasing as a result of the springing up of more aerodromes in the country.
A member of NATCA, Godwin Nawa, revealed that the number of “certified professional controllers” has declined due to retirement without replacement. He also observed that fatigue occasioned by long hours of work against the recommended practice is likely to undermine air safety. The situation apparently calls for the employment of more air traffic controllers to reduce the tight work schedule of these professionals.
According to aviation experts, air traffic controllers are people trained to maintain the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic in the global air traffic control system. The position of air traffic controller is one that requires highly specialised knowledge, skills and abilities. They also guide pilots to keep aircraft flying safely, efficiently and on time.
There is no doubt that air traffic controllers are important in the aviation industry in view of their indispensable function in ensuring air safety. Therefore, government should not ignore the alarm over the shortage of these professionals.
The nation’s aviation authorities should treat the concerns raised by NATCA with despatch. The dearth of this category of workers portends great danger for air safety, particularly at a time that more airports are being built across the country.
It is, indeed, worrisome that some state airports have been reported not to have air traffic controllers. If this is true, then something urgently has to be done to remedy the situation before our air safety is compromised. Government should conduct an audit of air traffic controllers in the country with a view to addressing the shortages identified.
Government should also train more air traffic controllers to fill the gap created by those who have retired from service. Those in charge of our aviation should sit up and ensure that our air operations meet acceptable international standards at all times.
It is understandable that the country is passing through a difficult phase as a result of the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market and may be finding it difficult to meet some of its funding obligations. Nonetheless, the aviation industry is too critical to be neglected on account of dearth of funds. The needs of the sector, including the training of more air traffic controllers, should be addressed without any further delay. We say this because of the role they play in ensuring air safety. This vital arm of the aviation industry should not be starved of personnel.
In view of the specialized skills and knowledge required to do the work, government can consider the option of overseas training for some of them if our aviation schools cannot cope with the assignment.
Let the government handle this matter as a national emergency. Our aviation authorities should also use this opportunity to address other problems plaguing the aviation sector. Government must ensure that our skies are safe at all times.