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The Luring Of Trained ATCs

Aviation news: Uganda air traffic controllers next exodus targets

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Dec 09, 2010

UGANDA (eTN) - International airlines, especially those based in the Gulf region, have in the past made it almost a habit to snap up trained pilots, cabin crew, and technical personnel from carriers in Eastern Africa to the dismay of local airlines who incurred heavy training expenses. Even bonding has not fully stopped the outbound migration of such skilled individuals, as some pilots reportedly do receive their money back from new employers, after quitting and paying off their bond. Others who decided to stay on, successfully negotiated substantially better pay and terms and conditions from their employers – as repeatedly reported here in past editions.

The next aviation target group now appears to be the air traffic controllers (ATC), who like pilots, cabin crew, and engineers, are paid relatively little – by international standards that is – though they have very handsome salary packages compared with the rest of the local labor market.

An upcoming shortage of ATCs has, according to a source in Nairobi, triggered offers to such individuals to resign and sign up for lucrative contracts abroad, which would potentially leave the East African skies exposed should such a trend in the first place exist and then prevail. Training air traffic controllers, as is the case with pilots, is a lengthy and costly exercise, and control tower staff are already working at near maximum capacity.

Any reduction, therefore, could potentially leave screens unmanned and overwork the remaining staff, or see trainees turned out faster than should be the case. It is thought that the minimum time required to train ATC staff is three years but specialized training can push this to several more years before being fully qualified to work alone. Figures given by a source in Entebbe of air traffic control staff across the entire East African Community are less than 400 in the best scenario, while some put the figures nearer to the 300 mark, which if true, underscores the need to not only actively recruit new trainees but also create a work environment and pay packages commensurate with their responsibility and skills.

Even if traffic across Eastern Africa is nowhere near the intensity of Europe or the key Gulf airports, it still needs to be conducted safely and securely, which requires sufficient staff on duty, on call, and as back up. Only recently was it reported here that the Ugandan air traffic controllers celebrated the anniversary of their global organization and it is now better understood why the numbers of the celebrants was relatively small in numbers.

Aviation news: Uganda air traffic controllers next exodus targets
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