Monday, April 02, 2012

Mid-air collisions feared in Pakistan, air traffic controllers say

KARACHI: All domestic airlines, including Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and foreign carriers flying over Pakistani airspace will have trouble finding someone on the airwaves to guide them through from Monday morning.

The air traffic controllers (ATCs) have informed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that faulty radar, communication systems and over stretched working hours were badly affecting their capability to handle air traffic and they would voluntarily leave the positions of control before something happened.

A spokesman for Air Traffic Controllers Guild, representing more than 300 ATCs across Pakistan said that the airspace of Pakistan was no more safe due to surging safety and efficiency challenges, as increasing density of air traffic had put in place many dangers like near miss, route conflict and possibly mid air collisions.

He said that in Karachi sector air traffic coming from the west part of the country increased up to maximum 35 to 45 aircrafts at a time on one frequency, therefore, Karachi ACC sectors (Radar and Non-radar) had become overloaded by 10 and 67 times respectively in a week, which had increased the risks of mid air collision of air planes.

He said that it was a decade old issue and they had been continuously trying to make the management understand the complexity of the air traffic control but all their cries had so far fallen on deaf ears.

As per the orders of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in its circular 241-AN/145 titled “Human Factors Digest No.8: Human Factors in Air Traffic Control” categorized classes of errors occur in ATC, so that appropriate procedures to remove them can be devised by the respective aviation authorities.

It may be noted that the controller’s workload should not exceed a certain level known as Heavy Load Threshold (HLT), and beyond this level the controller will be unable to handle the air traffic safely.

The domestic airlines including PIA have been incurring huge financial losses in terms of extra fuel consumption due to inability of Air Traffic Controllers to give full concentration to domestic traffic due to over loaded controllers and substandard navigational equipment.

The ATCs of CAA have been highlighting the hazards to flight safety due to over burdened controllers who are denied rest between continuous duty spans and other related matters, so far the PCAA has not given any importance resulting in ATCs prioritizing the matters as per flight safety in Pakistan airspace.

According to sources the loss of fuel, due to ATCs inability to work out route shortenings etc, was also endorsed by the office of Chief Pilot Coordination, PIA Flight Operation, that PIA was facing additional losses due to go slow by the ATCs of CAA, as only in one day they lost Rs3.1 million on extra fuel consumption.

“Keeping in view all this previous and forecasted air traffic increase, it has become imperative for CAA to devise a strategy to overcome the airspace congestion and workload issues in order to enhance safety, capacity, and efficiency in the airspace including replacement of Communication Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) infrastructure,” said the spokesman.

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