Paul Phelan/CAIRNSDavid Learmount/LONDON

NEW ZEALANDS privatised air-traffic-control (ATC) service sidestepped International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) procedures during a 4-6 December controller strike says, the international aviation organisation. The strike, which seriously disrupted domestic and international schedules, was due to be repeated on 12-15 December.

The event has been closely studied, as the New Zealand Airways Corporation (NZAC), is the world's first privatised national ATC service.

The International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA) claims that, in failing to guarantee any level of ATC service or information, New Zealand flouted its ICAO obligations. ICAO says that it "...shares several of IFALPA's concerns and has contacted the New Zealand authorities on the subject".

Following a breakdown of talks over a claim for a 16% pay increase and other conditions, controllers shut down services in New Zealand airspace, including the massive area of non-sovereign oceanic airspace for which NZAC has responsibility.

Under a strike-contingency plan approved by New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority (NZCAA), national airspace was redesignated restricted. ICAO says that all ATC contingency plans require its approval, but New Zealand's did not have that. ICAO adds: "ICAO's requirements regarding the plan, have been conveyed to the New Zealand authorities. Discussions are continuing." The NZAC says that it lodged a contingency plan with ICAO ten days before the strike, and maintains that ICAO's approval is not required. The NZCAA says that it will now have a standing contingency plan based on this experience.

NZAC says, that aircraft separation was secured procedurally, using timed departures and one-way corridors, but with radar back-up in the form of "flight-following", carried out by "air-services management personnel".

The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations has written to ICAO condemning the contingency plan as "fundamentally flawed", claiming that pilots had to provide their own separation irrespective of weather conditions, and that unqualified staff are used to provide the traffic-information service.

Source: Flight International