The International Civil Aviation Organisation has written to the Australian government outlining its requirements for the provision of air traffic services following a substantial rise in service interruptions and the use of traffic information broadcasts by aircraft (TIBA) in airspace managed by Airservices Australia.

A shortage of air traffic controllers in the country has seen an escalation of airspace closures and reduction in ATC services since the beginning of the year, with the situation worsening over the past few months. Airservices is linking the problem to current wage negotiations with its controllers, while the controller union Civil Air argues it is "symptomatic of a system that is slowly failing".

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government says the letter was a "polite ICAO regional office request for a status report and information on contingency plans being used in Australia for situations involving disruptions to airspace". The government says it is in full compliance with its requirements and will shortly respond to ICAO. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is monitoring the services provided by Airservices, says the government, adding that TIBA is not compromising safety.

Local airlines Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Blue met Airservices late last month to discuss the situation amid concerns that some pilots are not aware of correct TIBA procedures, whereby aircraft self-separate by broadcasting their positions and intentions. Airservices is publishing alternative preferred routes around affected airspace sectors.

Airservices chief executive Greg Russell acknowledges it has a controller shortage, but says since late last year it has experienced 140 interruptions to services, compared with only seven in 2006 and most of 2007, when there were no wage negotiations.

Airservices is 17 controllers short of a requirement of 897 actively working on consoles, according to Russell, adding that this is largely due to the "inefficient way we currently operate our air traffic group". Civil Air, however, believes the shortfall is closer to 100 staff.

Source: Flight International