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Staff shortage hits airspace agency as over 100 controllers approach retirement

By Wole Oyebade
03 October 2022   |   4:07 am
A massive staff shortage is set to hit the airspace management section of airports nationwide, as over 100 current Air Traffic Controller Officers (ATCOs) are due for retirement.

An air traffic controller at work in Nigeria. Photo: NCAA

NAMA to recruit, train new ATCOs
A massive staff shortage is set to hit the airspace management section of airports nationwide, as over 100 current Air Traffic Controller Officers (ATCOs) are due for retirement.

The Guardian learnt that the growing scarcity of critical workforce was worsened by the addition of more airports without commensurate moves to employ technical skills for efficient services.

Apparently, in response to the imminent shortage, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), said efforts are ongoing to train and recruit fresh hands to man the airspace effectively.

Manning airport towers and ground control offices, ATCOs work to avert airplane collision, organise and expedite the flow of air traffic, and provide information and other support services for pilots to have safe travels.

They have been engaged in a running battle with poor infrastructure, decrepit facilities and manpower in the last couple of years. About nine members have died in active service in the last two years.

At the weekend, it was learnt that over 100 of the current workforce would reach mandatory retirement age over the next three years, with serious concerns for airspace safety.

Acting Director of Operations, NAMA, Jubril Haske, however, assured members of the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (NATCA) that NAMA has plans to recruit additional 100 ATCOs to tackle the impending shortage.

Haske said the management envisaged a gap in the number of ATCOs and put in place a plan to recruit at least 100 personnel between 2022 and 2028.

He said: “NAMA Management is aware of the current and impending shortage of Air Traffic Controllers due to retirement, death and unrelenting increase in the number of airports around the country.

“Management is also aware of the pressure that shortage has been exerting and may further exert on your members. Let me assure you that we are already working to ensure that the situation does not become an emergency.”

He added that a basic ATC Course was ongoing at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, for 40 cadets, and another set would resume as soon as Zaria has space.

“This is besides efforts at obtaining approval to recruit additional 100 Air Traffic Controllers for strategic replacement of ATCOS that will retire from service by 2028.”

Haske said further that NAMA trained, at least, 36 ATCOs in various courses and at different countries in the last six months.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of West Link Airlines, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, noted that a glut of support staff not only swells the agency’s overhead; it also reduces efficiency.

According to him, “Some of our existing agencies are not working at optimal capacity. We have a situation where the agencies are working with more support staff of about 80 to 90 per cent, and not more than 10 per cent core professionals. This situation makes the agencies over-bloated and very expensive to run.

“We really need a total overhaul of the aviation industry. We should adjust the way we run the parastatals, and the way we fund them for the agencies and domestic airlines to thrive.”