Air Safety under threats as ATCs lament deplorable state of towers, equipment, illegal recruitment

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If there is anything, the Air Traffic Controllers in Nigeria will like the Federal Government to do for them, it is to relieve them of the stress they go through on a daily basis in trying to ensure safe air navigation in the country.

This stress they say comes from the deplorable state of their working environment, that is the control tower and the dilapidated facilities they work with.

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The President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, NATCA, Abayomi Agoro who lamented in an interview with journalists say, many control towers like the ones in Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto Calabar, and elsewhere do not have chairs for controllers to sit and do their jobs, washrooms to obey the call of nature and in some cases leaking roofs and the personnel have to use umbrellas to protect them from the rain and sun.

“Calabar is a serious deplorable state, even though, we heard the management is looking to put things in order”.

“Katsina today when you have a one-man watch and there is no facility for him to go and ease himself. He is a human being, just to urinate, are we saying he is going to get a bottle to urinate? Or descend the tower? If he descends, he is in breach of his professional ethics. So, what do you expect that person to do?

In Katsina, no restroom was provided, nothing, we are not just making claims, all these are verifiable these are facts that are there. Also, you mentioned Kano, Kano has a fine building and that is all. The facility inside unfortunately is a failure”.

He explained that even buildings called control towers were not really towers but watch rooms meant for other aviation personnel where ATCs have to manage to ensure safe air navigation.

“As I am talking to you now, some airports do not even have functioning equipment. Even, the Kaduna we are talking about, Kaduna does not have a control tower that they are using there is a watch room (for fire fighters), which is not built for that purpose and we have been calling on the government to do something. We go to Sokoto, once it rains today, controllers will go to look for umbrellas to sit at the control tower and what is it, some of the control towers attached to the terminal buildings some were ceded to FAAN, while those standing alone were with NAMA, but we have approached the two organization. The lift too, NAMA will be waiting for FAAN to put it in order, FAAN will say is it our staff that is working there and that is simply due to bureaucracy and you now discover controllers will continue to suffer”.

“We are still battling with terrestrial radio frequency, communication here and there. Calabar is there; there is no airport you will go to today that you would say things are working 80 percent”.

Apart from the above, Agoro says, Communication facilities were also an issue as the controllers were currently grappling with terrestrial frequency, Communication among others.

He emphasized that the icing on the cake of these numerous problems was the recruitment of persons not qualified or fit for the ATC job by the Human Resources in NAMA, without following due process, alleging that the HR in NAMA had hijacked the process to bring people from a particular area of the country, a development he described as inimical to air safety and can dampen the morale of other ATCs.

“To be an ATC, there are two critical things there: your technical knowledge and your fair attitude. But, we find it so disheartening to hear that NAMA has arranged a recruitment exercise in which we, as an associate are not even aware of it.

The recruitment of ATCs has a due process to follow. First, you place an advert and where you don’t place, you ensure that you make the information go round as much as possible, so that people can apply. Then, they will now go for what we call technical evaluation and other assessments. From there, you select the best of them. In this case, we only heard that 40 people were shortlisted. Who are these people?”.

Then, who are the people that are supposed to be in charge of recruitment of ATCs? It is not the duty of NAMA HR, it is the duty of the professionals, the directorate in charge. How do you expect somebody who does not know anything about a profession to now be the one to recruit, to source it, is it because now recruitment of ATC is no longer casualized?.

“Today, they do all kinds of things and go and meet people in Abuja, they have a space to employ people and they do all kinds of things, which is very dangerous to safety”.

He adds, “The issue is that the recruitment is not transparent and does not follow due process and moreover let me also say, the number of air traffic controllers we need to shore up the gap is not that 40 if they really want to address that it should be a nationwide thing, for now, the number of ATCs we have is far less than 400 and by this year to next year quite a number of our senior ATCs will be retiring”.

The body pleaded that concerned stakeholders verify their claims as they were in dare need of improvement in the safety of air navigation.

“Verify, everything we say, everything we mentioned here, we are not being emotional, we are angry because if the system demands I put my whole life into it, I expect the system to provide me the working tools to be able to do that. I’ve not spent close to two years ab initio in the training school for me to qualify as a professional and for me to be frustrated by a system that does not want me to give my best”.

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