Dublin-based air traffic controllers have expressed their concerns over the imminent splitting of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and have written to the Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan, demanding that he halt the process. The trade unions representing the air traffic controllers have cited major concerns over staffing and overtime, and have warned of a potential crisis that could pose safety risks and massive disruption. The unions have also stated that the new €320m runway in Dublin could be curtailed due to the crisis.
The unions have also raised concerns over the haemorrhaging of Irish air traffic control staff to better-paid roles abroad. They have argued that this trend has contributed to the current crisis and is a significant factor in the shortage of staff. The air traffic controllers have requested a €160m cash injection to secure their pensions and the return of a 10% pay cut imposed during the Covid crisis before the IAA is split at midnight on Sunday.
Fórsa’s ATC branch has warned the IAA management in recent weeks that the reliance on overtime to keep the service running is “dangerous”. The union has stated that the Dublin controllers “are simply exhausted” and that the issue, unless remedied, “may result in significant delays in transatlantic traffic transiting enroute airspace and potential flight cancellations”. The union has also emphasised the interdependencies of staffing levels, fatigue, workload, and safety, stating that these factors “cannot be overstated”.
The IAA has responded by stating that safety is its “core priority” and that it has “robust fatigue and safety management systems, policies, and procedures in place”. The IAA has also stated that using overtime to keep airspace open is standard practice, and that “if there is not enough cover for a controller to take a mandatory fatigue break, then the IAA will temporarily suspend aircraft movements through that airspace sector to ensure safety is maintained”.
The IAA has also stated that staff “refused to honour agreements, which has resulted in controllers not agreeing to work overtime to cover for unplanned absences”. The IAA has signalled its intention to work with the union, “but for such discussions to be productive and meaningful, adherence to agreements including protecting service continuity must be honoured”.
In conclusion, the concerns raised by the air traffic controllers’ unions regarding the staffing and overtime issues at the IAA are serious and require immediate attention. The safety of passengers and staff must be prioritised, and the Irish government must work with the unions to find a resolution to the crisis. The potential disruption to air travel and the curtailment of the new runway in Dublin could have significant economic consequences, and therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to find a solution as soon as possible.