The recently rebuilt and much delayed Greek air traffic control (ATC) centre is facing a major challenge this summer, as controllers adjust to new digital equipment, while coping with the demands of restructured airspace during the Kosovo crisis.

The Greek Government has been slow to provide enough personnel to run the state-owned system, and training requirements are limiting the rate at which qualified operators can be added at Athens Airport. "We have to convince the government of the real needs of the system," says Odyseas Margetos of the Hellenic Association of Air Traffic Controllers.

The $100 million Thomson-CSF PALLAS system finally came on line in January, after a five-year delay, replacing one that had no area control radars and used the old procedural system to direct aircraft. "It was a huge task to adjust to the new equipment," says Margetos. "We weren't used to using computers, and many of the controllers had great difficulty changing from paper strips [traditionally used to define the progress of an aircraft through an airspace zone] to the new paperless system."

Margetos says "major delays" are likely for airlines flying to Greece, if the Kosovo war continues, because of the closing down of north-south airways located too close to the war zone.

The ATC union has been pushing for pseudo-privatisation of the Greek ATC system "for about 20 years", says Margetos. Consultants from Germany's air navigation service provider, DFS, visited Athens recently, to discuss a state-owned private company structure similar to that in Germany.

Secretary-general of the Association of European Airlines Karl-Heinz Neumeister, has predicted "chaos" for European traffic this summer if the Kosovo crisis persists. He cites the continuing rapid growth in traffic, airline and ATC strikes and the "archaic" European ATC system as factors that could ground "one traveller in three" during the summer.

Source: Flight International