Rajan Pokharel, The Himalayan Times, 11 May 2018
Tribhuvan International Airport’s plan to operate the sole international gateway for 21 hours daily has hit a bump with the association of air traffic controllers writing to the management of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal about prevailing deficiencies and acute shortage of air traffic controllers.
A letter sent to the CAAN management, headed by the minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation, stated that lack of air traffic control officers would certainly affect the minister’s prescription for operating TIA for 21 hours from May 21.
“More than 100 positions of ATCO are still vacant while only 60 have been serving at TIA these days,” the letter stated, warning the CAAN management that the current strength of the workforce was not sufficient to operate TIA for 21 hours.
What makes the shortfall of ATCOs at TIA? Experts said it’s all because of their dominance over other lesser professions in the purportedly multi-disciplinary organisation. “The working controllers, who continue to assert their dominance over other lesser professions at CAAN, while equating their supremacy to that of doctors in a medical facility, are at a loss to explain why their fellows prefer to transgress in other sundry domains within CAAN like aviation security, terminal management, when doctors are never heard of usurping positions in ancillary areas of healthcare like biochemistry, nursing and the like, while leading to a shortage of controllers?” an aviation expert shared.
According to him, the association, which is not registered with the Department of Labour as a trade union, continues to masquerade as one of its proclaimed objective comically cites — to protect and safeguard the interest of air traffic control profession.
“When the air traffic control profession has been legitimised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in its annex on personnel licensing, it cannot be a profession under siege,” the expert added.
The ministry has recently formed a think tank of 20 purported specialists in attempting simultaneous therapies with the hope of a miraculous recovery in the country’s aviation sector, but most of them have extensive CAAN background at higher levels and many are former directors general.
According to a ministry official, the fact that both an overwhelming majority of CAAN directors and director general’s deputy rank officials, who exercise significant financial and administrative authority, as well as a third of the think tank members are active NATCA members who regularly exercise voting rights in the association’s elections raises troubling questions.
“Wouldn’t it be naïve to expect these association members to be objective in their tasked assessment when analysing the glaring deficiencies in a profession they still take pride in?” he questioned.
Clearly, the minister was kept in the dark about the fact that the air traffic controller licence is not a life-long entitlement like a university degree, but is rather a temporary certification of the relevant skills that is contingent on passing regular assessment of medical condition as well as task proficiency.
“Once any of the associated conditions are not complied with, the licence is just a useless piece of paper,” an airline executive described.
Of course, the association has been reduced to a mere means of regular merry-making at CAAN’s as well as airlines’ expenses for foreign junkets across the globe in the name of attending the meetings of their international federation.
“What is shocking is that despite CAAN being a fountainhead of controller production and promotion, it is hard to find any international paper presented by their ilk at either the IFATCA or ICAO conferences. That speaks volumes about the prevailing level of subject matter expertise,” a CAAN director concluded.