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Indian airports need 1000 more Air Traffic Controllers

Airports need 1,000 more ATC officers
Anirban Chowdhury / New Delhi

If you thought that the IGI airport in Delhi is the only one suffering a shortage of air traffic controllers (ATC), think again. The country has 1,500 ATC officers, which is only 60 per cent of its requirement of 2,500 ATC officers.

And despite new recruitments and training, the shortage will remain for the next few years, forcing ATCs to work much more than the stipulated working hours.

In fact, even the existing numbers are not all on ground controlling aircraft. “1,500 is just the total number of the officials across the country. Since the officials have several other duties and have to be present in the headquarters also, the total number of ATC officials (ATCO) actually controlling aircraft in the country at any given time comes to around 1,200,” said an AAI official.

Take the case of the Delhi airport, which currently has 200 ATC officials in all, out of which around 120 are senior officials.

The airport recently inaugurated its third runway and the internationally accepted requisite number of ATCOs for an airport having three runways comes to 350, a figure the airport will only reach in a year’s time, given the recruitment plans.

“Currently, as a result of the shortage, ATC officials have to work six extra hours every day,” says an ATC official.

Mumbai airport has a different set of problems. The airport has two intersecting runways operating, which would call for more precision in controlling the aircraft movements to avoid collision.

“Handling cross-runway operations requires specific training. These operations currently take place for around eight hours everyday at the airport. But given the expected increase in aircraft operations, once the lean season is over, the duration of cross-runway operations will have to be increased, for which we will need more trained ATCOs,” said an MIAL executive.

Hyderabad airport currently has no shortage of ATC officials but executives said that it had faced a problem in the initial two months after it started due to lack of trained manpower in handling the equipment.

“The Hyderabad airport is the first in India apart from Bangalore to have high-end air control equipment manufactured by European company Selex. Training ATC officials to handle that equipment took a little time,” said a Hyderabad airport spokesperson.

The Hyderabad and Bangalore airports have in turn put further pressure to an already thin staff as a large of number of officials from various airports were deployed at Hyderabad and Bangalore.

“Around 73 senior and even more junior ATC officials from across the country were deployed at the Bangalore and Hyderabad airports,” said an AAI official.

Waking up to the staff crunch now, AAI has sent 300 ATCO aspirants for training to the Civil Aviation Training College (CATC), Allahabad, the only such institute which imparts ATC training. People who want to join ATC services first sit for an exam conducted by the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

Those selected after the exam are sent to CATC for a training of six months to a year. The 300 new recruits are expected to join the airports by February 2009, which would ease the pressure on ATCs a bit.

However, even such ambitious recruitment plans have their problems, since there is a shortage of instructors at the training institute.

CATC has a total of 42 instructors, of whom five are retired ATC officials and the rest are officials currently deployed at various airports across the country.

“We usually deploy a skeletal staff in the college. But when the demand rises, we depute more instructors. But while we usually have a batch of around 60 students, handling a batch of 300 would require more instructors, which we are going to depute next year,” said an AAI official.

Meanwhile, a fresh batch of 96 junior ATCOs are expected to join Indian airports from September this year.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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