The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued new norms for duty timings of air traffic controllers, rejecting a proposal of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to provide relaxation for airports with fewer flights to enable it overcome a manpower shortage.
Though a version of these norms was first notified in November 2020, the AAI found it difficult to comply with it as it needed more personnel to provide the mandatory rest period. It has since then sought exemptions five times, and had also proposed differentiated duty timings for four categories of airports on the basis of air traffic handled — major airports or those with more than 400 flights a day and airports with up to 100 flights, 30 flights and 10 flights a day.
The DGCA rules for “watch duty time limitations and rest requirements” for controllers notified on January 11 say that the duty period of an air traffic controller cannot exceed 12 hours. A controller can only be assigned duty of no more than 48 hours within seven days, or not exceeding 180 hours in 30 days. The aviation regulator also says a controller requires 12 hours of rest between the end of one duty period and another. A controller cannot be rostered for more than six consecutive days.
He or she also must get a 30-minute break after every two hours, and at airports where the workload is less than half the capacity of the airport, can get a break once in four hours on a pro-rata basis — 45 minutes after three hours or 60 minutes after four hours.
While the duty hours have remained broadly unchanged since the 2020 norms, the DGCA has strengthened its rules to ensure compliance.
For the first time, the DGCA has defined the role of the Air Traffic Service in-charge in ensuring implementation such as publishing a roster five days in advance to provide the controllers the opportunity to plan rest, and that they do not perform administrative duties beyond the duty period.
The AAI will also have to develop and maintain a fatigue management policy and provide separate facilities for male and female staff for resting. It will also have to ensure compliance of duty timings. The DGCA rules also lay the onus on the controllers not to perform any safety relevant tasks when they know that they are fatigued or are unfit. But the AAI’s inability to hasten recruitment to meet requirement for more personnel may continue to be a roadblock in ensuring these rules are implemented.
“The AAI Board in May 2022 approved creation of 456 posts, but they are yet to be okayed by the Department of Public Enterprises of the Finance Ministry. A recruitee takes two years to be trained as a controller and at this rate they may not be ready before 2025 but there is an urgent need for more manpower as we are going to see nearly 20 more airports become operational by 2024,” says Alok Yadav, general secretary, Air Traffic Controllers’ Guild.
There are 3,871 air traffic control personnel, the same as the sanctioned posts. But the AAI has projected a demand for 5,131 in 2023 and 5,428 in 2024 to comply with DGCA norms.