Let us start with some newspaper headlines covering a time-span of last 6-7 years. Airports Authority of India (AAI) or to be specific Air Traffic Controllers’ shortage has always been in the limelight. It appears to be a chronic issue for the state run undertaking working under the aegis of Ministry of Civil Aviation, Govt. of India. Shortage has led to unnecessary burden on ATCOs which may lead to a disaster someday.
Aviation in India is on rise over the last decade which includes development and expansion of airports, surge in number of air-passengers and entry of private airlines. Government of India has signed bilateral agreements between India and other countries to allow aircraft to fly within each other’s territory, leading to better connectivity with these countries. Relaxation in 5/20 Rule has made it easier for private airlines to open more sectors. This year, Ministry of Civil Aviation also released its Civil Aviation Policy which aims at providing last mile connectivity to unserved or under-served airports. To cater this growth and development, there has been an obvious increase in the aircraft movements.
So we can see there is a remarkable growth achieved by Indian aviation industry which is expected to be continued in next decade as well. But what had not changed in these years is number of Air Traffic Controllers who are vested in the responsibility to make aviation safest mode of transport.
AAI and ATC Recruitment (2012 – 2017)
ATC Recruitments (2012-2015)
In 2012, AAI recruited around 180 ATC Officers and then AAI went into hibernate-mode. No recruitment was done in 2013 and 2014, however at the same time, the number of aircraft movements rose from 1478811 to 1603021. Here is the data available on AAI’s website showing this rise.
In 2014, USA’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded India’s aviation safety rating. One of the reasons for this downgrade was shortage of Air Traffic Controllers. FAA raised the question about India’s oversight processes not meeting global standards. In 2015, FAA restored the ranking owing to some corrective actions to address shortcomings.
ICAO Safety Panel audited various airports of India in Nov-Dec, 2015. ICAO Panel found that India is facing acute shortage of ATC Officers and red-flagged it. In its final report, the panel made this issue a “serious safety concern.” This report was an alarm for AAI as it has the responsibility to recruit suitable number of ATCOs for smooth and safe operations.
ATC Recruitments (2015-2017)
The rising media reports and ICAO Safety Panel’s report lead this Mini-Ratna PSU to finally wake up. AAI announced recruitment of JE-ATC for 200 post. Exam was conducted in April, 2015 and subsequently 200 ATC Officers were recruited. But due to no proactive approach by AAI in last 2-3 years, this recruitment served little purpose to cover the ATC crunch in the country. In December 2015, another exam was conducted by AAI to recruit 400 ATCOs. Some of these officers joined AAIs training institutes while others were sent to various airports for On-Job training (OJT).
In the beginning of 2016, the total strength of ATC Officers in India was approximately 2200. This year, AAI once again conducted online exam in April for the recruitment of 200 ATCOs. The number of ATCOs to be recruited was later revised to 400. But due to lack of consistency in recruitment for the last 2-3 years and the mass recruitment in 2015, AAI is unable to declare the result even after 8 months of the exam. The delay in result-declaration is due to the simple reason that it is not feasible to train so many candidates simultaneously. These candidates (to be recruited through April 2016 Exam) are likely to complete their initial training by the end of 2017.
Recruiting ATC officers irregularly will not solve this chronic issue of ATC shortage. Also the inefficient and irregular recruitment will hamper the career growth of ATC Officers who join AAI in mass as it will not be possible for all of them to be promoted simultaneously considering the limited seats in higher ranks. Despite the recruitment of 1000 ATCOs (combined vacancies: 2015 and 2016 recruitment notifications) the expected total strength of AAI will be around 3200.
But are these 3200 ATC posts sufficient? The straightforward answer will be NO. Because to cater the recruitment to world’s fastest growing aviation industry, India requires at least 4000 ATC Officers By 2020. AAI needs efficient and well planned recruitment of ATC Officers so that these Guardians of Sky can work in most efficient way, providing safety to all the aircraft under their control.
Future ATC Recruitments
By analyzing all this progress, Incomopedia expects that there will be more recruitment of ATC Officers in the coming years. AAI should minimize this shortage in a phased-manner. The right strategy would be expediting to bridge the gap between required and available ATC manpower and then move to a regular recruitment of small number of ATCOs each year.
In 2017, AAI should recruit 300 ATCOs at JE-ATC level. In 2018, after successful training of 2017 batch candidates, there can be a recruitment of 250 candidates. This recruitment will significantly reduce the ATC crunch in India. In 2019 and 2020, it can be expected that AAI will hire 200 JE-ATC candidates, each year. But again, all this will happen only if AAI introspects its past mistakes, reviews its recruitment process and take suitable actions to make Indian skies the safest in the world.