Europe is struggling with an overall air traffic control officer (ATCO) shortage of 12%, and some countries are staffed 25% below the proper level, according to Eurocontrol's head of human factors and manpower unit Alexander Skoniezki. "Air traffic has doubled over the last 15 years, but the number of controllers has increased only marginally," says Skoniezki.

Eurocontrol estimates a shortage of 1,200 staff across its 30 member states. Manning shortfalls will continue contributing to lack of capacity and air traffic delays, particularly in high-density areas such as France, Germany and Switzerland.

France has enough controllers, but restrictive industrial practices means the system operates below capacity. Germany's air traffic services provider DFS, which admits to being short of about 200 controllers, has just taken 17 Irish Aviation Authority ATCOs on a 30-month secondment.

"Staff shortages are tipped to remain a constraint until at least 2005," says Skoniezki, despite increased efforts to select and recruit trainees. Reasons for the shortfall, he adds, include an unpredicted loss of ATCOs to early retirement, and the fact that even the latest ATC technology has neither replaced some ATCO tasks nor increased productivity. Skoniezki says recruitment has been difficult due to competition from other sectors, the job's low public visibility, its high stress and responsibility levels, and the fact that it involves shift-work.

Non-operational ATCO positions like training, management or projects work are particularly badly manned, with a 25% shortfall.

Eurocontrol plans to get states to implement the single European licence for ATCOs. Advantages include uniform high standards and employee mobility.

Source: Flight International