Aviation staff shortage poses flight collision risks in Australia

By Dat Nguyen   June 19, 2024 | 05:50 am PT
Aviation staff shortage poses flight collision risks in Australia
A Qantas Airways passenger plane makes its final approach for landing in front of a control tower at Sydney International Airport. Photo by AFP
A staff shortage at air traffic control towers in Australia are causing concerns of collision among pilots who have to fly without assistance at night.

Darwin International Airport in northern Australia now offers no air traffic control services, which means that nearly every night around midnight, over a dozen flights must manage arrivals and departures with minimal ground assistance.

Townsvile Airport does not staff its control tower at weekends and last Sunday pilots of 50 flights had to coordinate their landings and takeoffs alone, Bloomberg reported.

After the Covid-19 pandemic many air traffic control staff left the sector.

Federal Transport Minister Catherine King said in August last year: "We lost a lot of air traffic controllers. A lot of them took early redundancy because with the planes not flying, the work wasn’t there, and the income wasn’t coming in," as cited in a report by Australian Aviation.

The situation has become more severe now travel activity has recovered.

Airlines have scheduled 866 flights to Darwin this month, the highest this year, compared to a low of 171 in May 2020 during the pandemic, according to aviation data provider Cirium.

"Without air traffic control, the chance of errors by any one aircraft or pilot increases, and the ability to identify and correct those errors is dramatically reduced," said Tony Lucas, a senior Qantas pilot who’s also president of the Australian and International Pilots Association.

The association in April issued a safety warning that there was a higher risk of a mid-air collision in some areas.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, however, said that it was "satisfied that the arrangements between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. are safe for the anticipated traffic mix" at Darwin.

It said that "safety is never compromised", adding that since 2020, the organization has recruited and trained 100 new air traffic controllers, with over 70 more expected to join by the 2025 fiscal year.

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