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    Sep 13, 2016

    Hiring of air traffic controllers set to take off

    SINGAPORE is on a hiring spree for air traffic controllers to handle its burgeoning number of flights.

    From 390 now, total staff strength will increase to about 600 by the end of the decade, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) told The Straits Times.

    The recruitment drive, which industry players say is the most aggressive in recent years, comes amid a global shortage that has caused concerns at the United Nations (UN).

    Based on air traffic projections and aircraft orders, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - the UN's civil aviation arm - estimates that the world will need another 40,000 air traffic controllers by 2030.

    But a lack of training facilities, among other factors, could cause a shortage, including in the Asia Pacific, which is expected to face a deficit of more than 1,000 controllers a year, ICAO has warned.

    This could have an impact on safety for the rising number of travellers.

    As Singapore ramps up recruitment of air traffic controllers and with increasing manpower costs, there is some worry that air navigation fees could go up, airlines said.

    A CAAS spokesman said the aim is to ensure that air navigation fees continue to remain competitive.

    "Where appropriate, CAAS is prepared to consider measures to help airlines manage costs," she added.

    In the two financial years from 2014, for example, the authority absorbed $50 million of total air navigation charges to help airlines operating at Changi Airport during a period of rapidly rising costs, she said.

    Apart from hiring more people, the industry is mindful of the need to ensure that these air traffic controllers are always alert.

    Controllers on nine-hour shifts - morning, afternoon and night - take a 30-minute break for every 11/2 hours to two hours of work, the CAAS spokesman said.

    The shift system is regularly assessed to ensure it not only meets operational needs but also the preferences of the officers, she added.

    CAAS is now reviewing the processes and procedures, in line with a global ICAO initiative, to study ways to reduce fatigue, among other objectives.

    One area being studied is how rosters are planned and that this should take into account the fact that the body does not react and adjust to situations in the same way throughout the day.

    CAAS will make the adjustments, if any, before ICAO's November 2020 deadline.

    With the number of global air travellers set to double in the next two decades to about seven billion, there is also a big push for investment and regional cooperation so airports can handle more flights safely and efficiently.