Shortage of Air Traffic Controllers widens

Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) are crucial in achieving high levels of safety for flights and assisting pilots during take-off and landing, monitoring aircraft as they travel through the skies and preventing mid-air and on-ground collisions.

India is well on its way to becoming the world’s third-largest aviation market. Airlines are looking to expand, and the government is aggressively pushing for more airports for better connectivity. But an essential cog in the mammoth Indian aviation machinery is facing issues – Air Traffic Controllers. It seems that the country needs more of them, and fast.

With a rapid increase in the number of airports in India and the skies getting busier every year, the country’s current lot of air traffic controllers can’t keep up with the industry’s growing needs.

According to reports, several ATCOs in India are overworked. 

Faced with an escalating need for air traffic controllers due to the rapid increase in airports in the country and slow recruitment, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has asked the aviation safety regulator to revise rules on their duty hours so that their rest periods can be shortened.

To comply with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s rules on “watch duty limitations and rest requirements”, the AAI as the provider of air traffic services needs 40% more personnel for 2022 than its current strength of 3,163 personnel.

In 2023, it will need 5,131 ATCOs or 60% more than the present numbers, and in 2024, it will need 5,428, or 70% more officers, according to a government official.

India’s current ATC workforce cannot keep pace with the growing industry.

Officials at the AAI as well as members of the Air Traffic Controllers Guild attribute the widening shortage to three factors — failure to create new posts for the past six or seven years, delay in recruiting new officers during the pandemic as well as several new airports expected to become operational later this year.

“We have asked the DGCA to rationalise its rules. Instead of one set of rules for all airports in the country it must look at volume of air traffic at different airports to fix duty and rest periods. An airport that operates 24×7 hours such as Delhi will have different requirements than those that see flights only between dawn to dusk or have limited day-time operations.”

Government official

The three training centers for ATCOs in Prayagraj, Hyderabad, and Gondia can only accommodate 264 trainees a year. It also takes around 18 months on average for a new joinee to effectively start working at an airport tower.

With air traffic increasing swiftly and airports mushrooming in all corners of the country, the present ATC resources are spread too thin.