Why Nigeria urgently needs more air traffic controllers

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FOR the umpteenth time, key holders in the country’s aviation sector have continued to alert of the urgent need for the Federal Government through the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to employ more air traffic controllers (ATC).

Presently, the whole country can boast of about 400 ATCs manning aircraft landing, take off, separation and other safety functions regarding the safety of aircraft flying into and out of Nigeria and even overflying the country’s airspace.

In other words, the services of air traffic controllers are very germane and sensitive to air safety in any country that takes its air transport safety very important.

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The work of an ATC without doubt requires serious brain calculation devoid of unnecessary stress or pressure as any attempt to violate all these requirements may lead to catastrophe.

Coincidentally, the job of making the functions of the ATC more seamless and impactful in the country falls on NAMA which has for some time been doing well to an extent in ensuring the country’s airspace is made safe through the installation of standard navigation aids across the country’s airports.

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However, installing the flying aids may not be enough if those who are to complement the functions of the aids are being over stressed.

This brings to the fore again the recent genuine alarm raised by the President of  National Air Traffic Controllers of Nigeria (NATCA), Victor Eyaru, about the shortage of air traffic controllers manning the country’s airspace.

According to Eyaru, the few controllers are being overworked as the existing 400 ATCs on ground including those who will soon retire are being made to do the work of more than 700 number required.

This issue of shortage of air traffic controllers for long had been raised and is still being raised by many stakeholders at different fora but, surprisingly, the government failed to address this as critical as it is to air safety.

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It is hoped that the government realizes the danger inherent in over using its air traffic controllers; it is an invitation to disasters which nobody should take lightly.

Though, it is on record that NAMA had late last year employed and trained 40 ATCs but the figure fell short of the required number of 300 needed to boost the job.

The NATCA president, who lamented how the Federal Government has in the last 16 years turned the deaf ear to the issue of the paucity of controllers needed for this critical safety component, expressed worries of the existing over-used controllers, even as air traffic is increasing with more airports springing up.

Without doubt, the present leadership of NAMA, with Captain Folayele Akinkuotu, will be in the list of those ignoring this urgent necessity because of his profession as a pilot.

While he may also have other critical departments like the  air traffic communications,  aeronautical information services among other critical departments to attend to, the continuous cries of the air traffic controllers cannot be ignored any longer in view of the looming danger.

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As it is being done globally, no serious government treats its aviation sector with levity, therefore, the Nigerian government cannot afford to be an island and should come to the aid of NAMA by releasing a special grant required to urgently employ and train additional 300/400 air traffic controllers.

The need to act fast is that no matter how the government tries to shy away from this critical responsibility, the consequence is surely waiting to confront it soonest; and when it happens, the whole world particularly the Nigerian traveling public will hold the government responsible for endangering the lives of its citizens.

Air traffic controllers are human beings, and because they are humans, they can succumb to stress and when this happens, nature will surely react and the consequence should be left hanging in the air.

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