ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 7, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 19
Financial Times  

Manpower crisis in Sri Lankan Air traffic control sector

By Bandula Sirimanna

The Sri Lankan Air traffic control system which used to control the entire Indian Ocean region half a century ago now seems to have passed its golden days as there is severe dearth of air traffic controllers to control Sri Lanka’s own air space.
A senior official of the Civil Aviation Authority told The Sunday Times FT that only 57 air traffic controllers are manning the Bandaranaike International Airport control tower at Katunayake and it is far short of the estimated 96 minimum cadre requirement.

"Soon after the 2nd World War Sri Lanka had a brilliant bit of infrastructure, aerodromes, manpower and equipment”. He added that, "When you fly from Singapore to Johannesburg in the early days it was Sri Lanka that controlled the air space south of Sri Lanka," “However, after the independence of Sri Lanka, the aviation industry started going down. The airline industry suffered the impact of a closed economy and then the ethnic conflict,” he said. Controlling international air space is also a money spinner, with each aircraft charged fees.

He emphasized the need to recruit talented youth to fill vacancies conducting an all island competitive examination to select suitable young men and women for training. Such examinations were conducted by Air Ceylon till the late 1960s but this practice had been gradually diminished due to political and various other reasons, he said.

Nihal de Silva, a former air traffic controller and pilot told The Sunday Times FT that a hi-tech air traffic management system has the potential to make Sri Lanka a regional hub for civil aviation and enhance her earnings from servicing aircraft. Such a system should be installed at the Bandaranaike International Airport control tower at Katunayake and this in turn could attract more aircraft to fly through airspace within the jurisdiction of the Colombo Flight Information Region (FIR), an area covering 950,000 square miles stretching from the middle of the Indian Ocean from the Maldivian FIR to the Australian FIR. This new air traffic management system will help better manage crowded skies, allowing aircraft to fly closer laterally and longitudinally. "It will enhance flight safety, encourage more aircraft to use our airspace, and enable the government to earn move revenue by servicing such aircraft," he added. De Silva said such an air space management system will help Sri Lanka modernize its air traffic control in the Colombo FIR and be compatible with the requirements of the Future Air Navigation System (FANS).


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