One of the critical jobs in air traffic management, air safety and success of flight operations is that of air traffic controllers (ATCOs).
ATCOs issue landing and take-off instructions to pilots. They monitor and direct the movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air, using radar, computers, or visual references. They also control all ground traffic at airports, including baggage vehicles and airport workers.
They are indispensable in air transportation, although they are not visible. But they are the personnel behind the safe departure, flight and arrival of every aircraft that lands in the airport, airstrip or airfield.
Nigeria has faced the protracted problem of having inadequate number of ATCOs personnel. There has always been the need to train more controllers and to adequately retrain existing ones, who need maximum exposure to technology driven global air traffic management.
It is therefore expected that every year controllers should be exposed to one form of training or another because airspace management technology upgrades very fast, as the world strives to make flying even safer. So there is the need to ensure that the controllers are regularly updated.
This was part of the issues raised as the world celebrated International Day of the Air Traffic Controller last Sunday.
In Nigeria, Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which is the umbrella organisation for all ATCOS in the country, urged that government should deploy more funds to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) for the training of controllers, whose sensitive job makes it compulsory that they should be adequately trained.
It is also expected that NAMA should engage in regular recruitment and training of new controllers that would take over from the existing ones when they retire.
The National President, NATCA, Abayomi Agoro, explained that the navigation systems had been improved and working at optimal capacity, but government should inject funds into NAMA to ensure that there is continuous training for the ATCOS.
Agoro, who spoke to THISDAY in Lagos on Tuesday said that NAMA has done tremendously well with its limited capacity but there’s still a lot to be done in the training and retraining of ATCOs and all other technical staff of the agency.
“There’s need for more specialised trainings like Performance Based Navigation (PBN), Controller-Pilot DataLink Communication (CPDLC), Search and Rescue (SAR), SMS and other managerial trainings. Training and re-training is key to safety and must be taken very seriously,” Agoro said.
He said the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) system works well, but requires upgrade.
“There is urgent need for a backup for the radar. In other words, if the government can procure a new surveillance system so that TRACON can be upgraded and reserved as backup radar. This is necessary in case of failure or maintenance. There is need for back up and we advise the government to make efforts to create a backup system,” Agoro said.
On manpower development, he said currently, there are 401 Controllers in Nigeria, noting that the number is far short of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) proposed 700 ATCOs.
“Of this numbers, 57 of them are on contract, which is re-engagement after retirement while nine are from the Ministry of Aviation on temporary engagement in NAMA. This figure is just about half of what is required to adequately man the Nigerian airspace,” Agoro stressed.
The NATCA President who presided over the Association’s Annual General Meeting in Kano yesterday, said the management of NAMA was doing a lot but much more is needed, remarking that there is need for government to take adequate measures to ensure the training of Controllers and other technical personnel in the agency.
“There are some critical issues which we have highlighted to the NAMA management. Some of them include the advancement of our Controllers which has been pending for years; the association believes that once this has been resolved the affected ATCOs will be happy, dedicated in the discharge of their duties.
“Secondly, the non-release of ATC scheme of service; training of our members, payment of many ATCOs claims are among issues with the management but the association (NATCA) has an utmost confidence in the leadership of Capt Fola Akinkuotu, NAMA Managing Director that these issues would be resolved soon,” he said.
Agoro, emphasised that these demands are critical to the Association and lamented that funding for the training of Controllers is grossly inadequate.
“Sharing (of funds) is lopsided, not tailored to priority but on quota basis. This doesn’t enhance safety. The budget is inadequate to fund the required technical required training, most especially, the offshore or overseas training.”
He said the total number of licensed ATCOs is 401 (335 -NAMA, 57 – Contract, 9- Ministry), total cadets is 47 (44 in NAMA and three in the Ministry).