Airservices has denied a lack of air traffic controllers was behind its decision to effectively close much of its airspace along Australia’s east coast on Thursday, causing delays and cancellations.
The organisation that runs ATC said the shutdown, between 6 am and 1:30pm, was instead due to a “short-term” and “unplanned” leave of controllers and did not affect safety.
However, it comes after reports emerged earlier this year that there were 340 instances of “uncontrolled airspace” from June to April 2023, with Airservices admitting to “staff availability issues”.
The shutdown on Thursday again meant aircraft had to ‘self-separate’ from each other and rely on radio broadcasts rather than centralised information from air traffic controllers.
Switching to TIBA – traffic information broadcasts by aircraft – leads to delays and cancellations, with Virgin’s policy not to operate in TIBA airspace where possible.
An Airservices spokesperson told The Australian that during this period, it would “manage the airspace safely by implementing internationally recognised procedures and continuing to provide a flight information service, a search and rescue alerting service and a safety alerting service using an air traffic controller who will monitor the frequency the pilots are operating on and surveil the airspace”.
Airservices added it was “enhancing its service resilience” by recruiting more than 50 trainees nationwide in the next three months and that 80 air traffic controllers are due in the 2024 financial year.
Earlier this year, Airservices again denied a long-term staffing issue, arguing it employed 900 ATCs but only required 800 to staff its network fully.
Staff shortages post-pandemic are becoming a significant issue for the industry, with Bonza and Rex among the major organisations reporting problems.
This week, Australian Aviation reported how cancellations caused by shortages at Bonza left many of its passengers stranded.
The low-cost carrier’s problems are compounded because it mostly flies ‘low frequency’ routes not serviced by its rivals – meaning customers often struggle to find alternative transport home.
In addition to scrapping past services, Bonza has cancelled at least seven future flights, with customers finding out weeks in advance.