CAA controller’s unjustified protest
February 10, 2012
Several domestic and international flights across the country have been facing delays for the last couple of days due to the ongoing protest campaign by Air Traffic Controllers. The protesting controllers of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) adopted the ‘go by the book' policy after the management refused to give them a new rating allowance up to 125 percent.
More than 250 controllers are performing duties while wearing black armbands. Controllers across the country have stopped going the extra mile to accommodate the traffic for short cuts and expedite the landings and take-offs.
Contrary to popular believe that the ongoing dissent has disturbed both international and domestic flights besides causing great inconvenience to the passengers, this is actually for the first time that the controllers are following the rules and regulations. The “go by book” policy has been adopted keeping in view “Air Safety”. Prior to the ‘go by the book’ policy the controllers were in violation by giving “short tracking” on prescribed air routes. Ironically, even right now while the so-called protest is underway, these controllers adjust their air route traffic for converging or conflicting traffic, giving short tracking for their own ease and comfort.
The delays faced by airlines are due to the following of standard air routes. The controllers cannot cause any delay on their own. To do so would mean that they would be responsible for creating aviation hazards, which could result in fatalities. By not following, the “go by book” procedures the controllers were making a mockery of their own profession and causing great loss to CAA in terms of revenue. It is gross negligence on the part of the Authority for not taking any action against the controllers for this. In fact, the revenue loss thus incurred by the Authority should be recovered from controllers instead of giving them the 125 percent allowance increase.
Recently, the CAA carried out a revision of air navigation, landing housing charges etc. Aviation experts opine that these changes by the authority are with the approval of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), based in Montreal, Canada.
ICAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations created in 1944 to promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation throughout the world. It sets standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency and regularity, as well as for aviation environmental protection. Pakistan is among its 191 Member States.
CAA Pakistan is a public sector autonomous body working under the Federal Government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Defense. It was established on 7th December, 1982 as an autonomous body to manage the civil aviation related activities in the country. Nearly all civilian airports in Pakistan are owned and operated by the CAA.
A quick retrospect shows CAA providing civil airports and aerodromes in the country to promote air transportation and navigational services and calibration services to aircraft using the nation’s airspace. Among its many functions in aviation, the CAA is responsible for controlling the movement of aircraft throughout the nation, establishing and maintaining electronic navigation aids, licensing pilots and certifying the airworthiness of aircraft.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) is the core section of the CAA. The Air Traffic Control profession is widely considered as one of the most stressful professions in the world. ATCs require a cool and calm temperament, a good quick brain, ability to concentrate (both in busy and quiet periods), high level of physical fitness, quick reactions and ability to make quick decisions. The constant flow of information must be grasped instantly, interpreted and remembered. This requires intelligence and good memory.
Each controller is responsible, at separate times, for giving taxiing instructions to aircraft, take-off instructions and air traffic clearances and directing landings of incoming planes. Controllers must work rapidly, mental demands increase as traffic mounts, especially when poor flying conditions occur and traffic stacks up.
Like every government department in Pakistan, the CAA is also plagued with corruption, favoritism, nepotism, misappropriation of funds and misuse of power.
In July 2010 the Special Committee of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of National Assembly submitted a detailed audit report on financial mismanagement in the Civil Aviation Authority. The then Secretary Defense Syed Athar Ali had expressed concern over financial mismanagement by CAA and said he had already warned the institution to take measures for curbing wrongdoings.
Last July a petition was moved to Islamabad High Court against massive corruption in the CAA and some other malpractices. Earlier in May last year, the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) found irregularities worth billions of rupees under different heads in the CAA.
In its Service Regulation, which was adopted at the 87th Board meeting in 2000, it is clearly stated: “No employee of the Authority shall indulge in provincialism, favoritism, victimization or willful abuse of office.” In fact, the Authority itself is flagrantly violating this clause.
Take for instance the ongoing protest by the controllers. The Authority has turned a blind eye to their protest, which is being marked by the wearing of black ribbons. No action is being taken against them. On the other hand, a couple of years ago the daily wage staff of the Authority, who were demanding regularization of their service, also wore black ribbons in protest. The CAA took action against them and many were even sacked from service. It was only through the intervention of the Supreme Court that their services were regularized.
According to aviation experts, Employees in Pay Group (PG) 07 and above known as “officers” leave no stone unturned to create unfavorable working environment for other employees known as “staff” (PG-01-06). “Even the unjust demand for increased allowance is only for the officers .There is no mention in the demands for allowances or other benefits for the staff,” they said.
There is planned marginalization and neglect of air traffic control assistants, supervisors and superintendents of the nature of their work and their working conditions in ATC. Staff in the ATC section speaking on condition of anonymity said, “Assistants, Supervisors, and Superintendents are the backbone of the Air Traffic Control. Without them, the controllers are incapable of performing their duties. We perform even some of their own duties. Yet they are always discriminating against us.”
Another instance of violation by CAA is the issuance of computer allowance which was approved vide CAAO-2-5 Appendix “F” dated 28-09- 1999. The approved computer allowance is not being given to all the deserving employees. Here too the CAA has adopted favoritism, as some senior staff members are not getting the allowance while juniors are drawing the said allowance.
These staff members have raised the issue at all the appropriate legal forums of the Authority for their just right. Application and subsequent reminders have been sent even to the DG but to no avail. HQCAA sources confided that one of ATC staff has been fighting for his computer allowance for over a decade. “He has written numerous applications and reminders to all even the DG but the Authority has not been able to justify why he is being discriminated.” They further said that DG is not granting personal hearing to resolve the issue, adding, “Why such a fuss is being created over the controllers protest when genuine grievances of the staff are being ignored”.
According to sources, another glaring example of policy violation by CAA relates to the issue of uniform. Official notification HQCAA/2580/1/HR(B.S. Gen) dated 13th July 2007 specifically states that uniform is for “CAA ANS (ATC) Officers/Staff (Male/Female) only who are working at airports, excluding who are deployed at HQCAA…and performing non operational duties at airports/ regional offices.” In violation, the ATC Officers who are deployed at HQCAA and are performing non operational duties also wear the uniforms! There is also blatant discrimination by the officers towards staff. The officers by not getting the uniform sanctioned for the staff, clearly creating a divide.
Pointing out yet another abuse of rules and regulations within CAA, sources revealed that there is no criteria for transfers/postings and promotions. “Due to provincialism and favoritism, some employees belonging to the same trade and also the same batch are transferred/posted within the country while those with connections are transferred within 2kms that is from HQCAA Karachi to Jinnah International Airport Karachi!”
They say that the CAA should not bow down to the demands of the controllers. “The Authority should instead clean its house first. The rules and regulations regarding transfer and promotions should be done according to the book,” they say, adding that by accepting the demands of the controllers, the CAA should also fulfil the just demands and rights of the staff also, which has been pending since long.