Delhi airport, the busiest in the country, handles more than 700 flights daily. In the last five years, the number of flights have doubled but the number air traffic controllers is almost the same.
“The job of an air traffic control official (ATCO) is one of the toughest. The manpower shortage here is such that we have to do extra duties,” said a senior ATCO requesting anonymity. “The way Delhi airport’s traffic is growing, we may be handling 800 flights daily by next year.”
There are nearly 200 controllers at Delhi Airport where 300 are required. Though the Airport Authority of India, which manages all civil traffic in India, has been recruiting trainees, it takes three to four years for a recruit to be properly trained and assigned duties.
After the April 5 incident, the first action taken, like all such incidents, was the suspension of ATCOs. It was, however, the same ATCOs who had risen to the occasion on January 14 when the ATC radar screens went blank. With 70 aircraft flying over an area stretching across north India and no online data available, the ATCOs managed the traffic ‘manually’.
“Senior ATCOs have to handle more than 20 flights at a time. The number will only increase,” he said. “We are asked to put in extra hours and leaves are few and far between.”
“With such high level of stress and hard working conditions, near miss incidents like these are bound to happen,” he said.