NAIA controllers also sleepless

Published by rudy Date posted on April 18, 2011

MANILA, Philippines –  US air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job are not the only airport workers feeling overworked.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 management is having difficulty getting ramp air controllers to report for work as they dont’t know when they can next sign off.

It was learned that some ramp controllers work continuously for days without any replacement – the same predicament of some of their counterparts in the US.

Overworked and harassed air controllers are accident baits, aviation experts have warned.

The root of the problem is low salary.

Ramp controllers are licensed air traffic controllers doing the no less risky but unglamorous job of assigning aircraft their proper parking berth, preparing schedules when planes have to be towed out of the terminal to find their proper slot in a maze of departing and arriving airplanes.

Modern passenger air terminals have become so complex that ramp control is now a necessity.

Sometimes there are four of them –as in the NAIA — untangling ground traffic, giving coherence to the crisscrossing traffic, and avoiding disaster on the ground.

The problem came into view following reports of

air traffic controllers in the US sleeping on the job while airplanes land unassisted.

It turned out that many US airports are employing only one technical expert in the graveyard shift, putting in peril the lives of the flying public.

The uproar exposed what had been a long-kept secret in US aviation, that usually one air controller rules the night shift, roughly from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next day.

The idea is to have at least two air controllers during the graveyard shift.

The problem was highlighted by the incident where an Airbus 380 taxiing at the New York Kennedy Airport clipped the tail of a twin-engine commuter jet improperly parked.

At the NAIA 2 last Friday, one ramp controller had to stay on duty for 24 hours because his relief had either refused to report for work, was late, or many of them felt burned out.

The NAIA has four sets of ramp controllers, one each at NAIA 1, 2 3 and the Manila Domestic Airport. All of them operate 24 hours a day.

Regular air controllers, the top guns of the lot, are assigned at the control tower or radar duty, actually directing air traffic to avoid collision, or getting planes through the maze of airways and air routes, safely and with the least delay.

Tardiness or absenteeism at the ramp control has been going on for some time but authorities, instead of addressing the problem, threatened the truant workers that they would be replaced by Air Force personnel doing the same job in obscure military air fields.

The threat doesn’t discourage the ramp workers, knowing that Air Force personnel couldn’t cope with the job. It has been done before, when air controllers went on strike years ago and Air Force controllers had to give up, overwhelmed by the volume of traffic and the necessary skills of running a commercial airport, where at least 1,000 landing and takeoffs a day are part of the territory.

Currently, NAIA 2 ramp controllers receive P13,000 monthly. They are requesting the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to ratchet up their salary to the level of their colleagues’ at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), whose lowest entry salary is P28,000 a month.

Ramp controllers are asking at least P22,000 a month.

Most of the ramp controllers at NAIA 2 are former employees of the defunct Air Traffic Transportation Office (ATO).

After years of work abroad, they offered their services and expertise to the MIAA, even at lower wages.

The MIAA, on the other hand, could not get outsiders, because the law requires licensed air traffic controllers, which are not readily available.

“Air Traffic Controllers are the most difficult job to get locally,” one study shows. Most of them have gone abroad and are getting about $1,000 to $1,500 monthly income.

The problem needs a speedy solution, experts pointed out. Delays are now common, part of the perceived slowdown by ramp controllers apparently to force the authorities to act on their demands.

One of their demands is to increase the personnel on duty to five. Currently there are three air controllers per shift, two on duty, and one or two on standby, resting or sleeping. They take turns on the job after every two hours to ease the pressure.

When one of two of them is absent, only one is left with a daily reality to prevent aircraft collision on the ground, such as what happened recently in the US. –Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star)

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