Flight disruptions loom as Traffic Controllers begin warning strike over colleague’s death

By Ada Okafor

Nigeria is facing imminent flight disruptions in the aviation sector as the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (NATCA) declared three hours “flow control” for two days, with effect from Tuesday.

Flow control is akin to a warning strike whereby Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) on duty would space all departures by 20-minute interval instead of the current 10 minutes.

The warning strike follows the death early Monday morning of an ATC, Mr. Aniekan Effiong Inuk.

Members of NATCA, the umbrella group of all ATCs, rose from an emergency meeting to register their displeasure over the death of Mr Inuk. 

They also called on the relevant aviation authorities and the public to quickly address its concerns without further delay.

They described the death of Inuk as not only “painful” but an “avoidable exit of one of our diligent and dedicated” colleagues.

The council of NATCA observed that within the last two years, the association has lost nine of its members on active service “due to stress related health complications which seem associated with poor working conditions and inadequate staffing.

“Several appeals to management and other stakeholders in the industry and inactions by appropriate managers on communiqués from the Association’s past Annual General Meetings, had failed to address the issues,” the association said in a statement issued by its President, Abayomi Agoro and General Secretary, Rev. Agbonlahor Felix.

NATCA insists that the death of Inuk on active duty at the Abuja airport was not unconnected with unavailability of operational vehicle to move him to a hospital in record time.

“Hence, Air Traffic Controllers are embarking on a three hours flow control for two days, 23rd and 24th November, 2021 from 0600UTC to 0900UTC to register our displeasure and call the attention of relevant authorities and the public to quickly address our concerns without further delay.”

The Association, however, made 11 demands from its employers, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and other relevant authorities to be met within the next two weeks.

They include the following: “That fully dedicated operational vehicles be provided to Air Traffic Control for the four major airports in Nigeria (Abuja Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano) and to any other airport where ATC operational vehicle is critically needed.

“That ATC Operational rooms are provided with adequate and quality ATC operational chairs and headsets.

“That at least 500 ATCOs be recruited to address the critical dearth in ATC manpower within the next two years starting with 70 recruits within the next three months.”

NATCA also sought the approval and implementation of a 500% upward review of the annual ATC medical allowance to enable ATCOs carry out comprehensive medical assessment among others.

They also added that “all Air Traffic controllers be enrolled in an enhanced comprehensive health and life insurance schemes that will meet their health needs.

“That a standard medical emergency kits be provided at all ATC units and a yearly Health Safety Environment (HSE) training programs for ATCOs be conducted.

“That all ATC communication facilities and equipment, most especially,  the VHF radios and SATCOM links be holistically rectified in other to address the perennial communication problems encountered in Nigerian airspace.

“That the staff deployed to ATC from other departments who have been stagnated on the same grade level for over seven (7) years be placed on their appropriate grade levels having fulfilled all requirements to be Air Traffic Controllers.

“That all appropriate managements should immediately approve and implement an upward review of the remunerations of contract ATCOs to make for them to earn Aerodrome and Approach rating allowances.

“That the appropriate management should immediately liaise with the Federal Ministry of Aviation and other relevant government bodies to correct the anomalies observed in the recently approved ATC Scheme of Service to allow for implementation in a bid to eliminate the stagnation of Air Traffic Controllers.

“That the appropriate management should immediately liaise with the Federal Ministry of Aviation and relevant government bodies to ensure ATCOs retire with their full monthly salary as pension.”

It added, “Consequent on the above submissions, the association gives an ultimatum of two weeks commencing from the date of this press release for the above demands to be addressed otherwise we cannot guarantee industrial harmony.”

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