Prospect hits back at Ryanair claims on air traffic control

Airline Ryanair has today called for resilience of air traffic control to be improved, but also made clear that it does not want to pay for the staffing levels required.

This came in response to a new report by the Civil Aviation Authority that found that short staffing at NATS (which runs the UK’s air traffic control) led to a lack of operational resilience and delays to flights.

Prospect is a major union in the aviation sector, including nearly 2,000 air traffic control officers. It has long argued that airlines, including Ryanair, pushing for cuts in the charges they pay would lead to there being too few staff to maintain service levels.

Steve Jary, Prospect national secretary for aviation said:

“As the airline that suggested charging people for using on-board toilets, Ryanair should know that every service has a cost. Rightly passengers expect safe flights and delays to be minimised. But this can only be achieved in air traffic control by having the right number of air traffic control officers.

“We have been working with NATS to improve resilience by making sure staffing levels are increased and more staff are trained. But it takes a long time to train an ATCO and the failure rate of new trainees is high. Having cut numbers, it will take time and cost a lot of money to build them back up again.

“It is therefore ridiculous for Ryanair to continue to argue that they want to have their cake and eat it.

“The recent cuts in air traffic control costs  – which Ryanair insisted on – amount to less than a pound in the price of a return air ticket. Did Ryanair pass that onto passengers? If they did, would passengers rather have a safe service with fewer delays? Air traffic control isn’t something where passengers want corners to be cut.”

Prospect has also contested claims that the problems could be resolved simply through increasing the amount of voluntary overtime that air traffic controllers work. Jary continues:

“Relying on more overtime was only ever going to be a short term fix. Increasing overtime on a long-term basis brings with it a whole host of other problems for fatigue, long-term illness and safety.

“In a safety critical area like this, the only solution can be a proper long term workforce plan that trains the staff we need, and can also adapt to increases in the number of flights.”

Number of air traffic controllers at NATS has fallen as air traffic is increasing:

11 thoughts on “Prospect hits back at Ryanair claims on air traffic control

  • Andrew Hogg
    August 8, 2017 at 4:56 am

    Fairly decent response; more could have been made of the fact that overtime is voluntary and also that, in what the media always refer to as a ‘high pressure, stressful job’, do we really want ATCO’s attending for additional duties when they should be resting and recuperating?

    Also; the following does not make sense:

    “The recent cuts in air traffic control costs – which Ryanair insisted on – amount to less than a pound in the price of a return air ticket. Did Ryanair pass that onto passengers? If they did, would passengers rather have a safe service with fewer delays? Air traffic control isn’t something where passengers want corners to be cut.”

    Are you saying that for the price of circa £1 per passenger per return ticket, staffing would be returned to an adequate level that would please Ryanair? Rhetorical question, because I’m sure (and certainly hopeful) that you are not, but that is how it reads.

    Ryanair also claimed that EGSS was subject to disproportionally more delays than Heathrow and that this was a deliberate favouring of the larger airport. The response could have mentioned that with a smaller operation such as EGSS, comes a smaller pool of staff. The same average sickness rate has a higher, disproportionate, effect on that staff pool than it does on a larger one.

  • Tim Vollam
    August 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    I have to agree with Mike’s sentiment. Ryanair claim the headline in a national newspaper article; Prospect ATCOs respond via Prospect ATCOs website and Twitter account. It smacks of preaching to the converted. Which approach, accurate or otherwise, is likely to linger longest in the public consciousness?
    Tim Vollam

    • Steve Jary
      August 7, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Don’t assume we don’t try and get stuff in the mainstream press. They are very reluctant to publish contrary opinions or evidence – especially when it’s favourable to a workforce and their union! But we’ll keep trying.

  • Stephen  Danson
    August 5, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Having attended many meeting where Ryanair representatives have been present it is clear that they have a fundamental mis-understanding regarding what it take to become a valid ATCO. As we all know the initial training for ATC is basically the same but it is the actual sector validation that requires the most training-this is the bit they don’t get. Despite telling them till the cows come home, they naievely think that it is just like flying a particular aircraft type in that you can source people from anywhere and convert them onto the sector in a couple of weeks. Yes, it works on aircraft types but not in ATC.

    Some of their guys do seem to “get it” when you talk to them privately but they are so hamstrung by their company line that they just refuse to admit it in public.

    Just remember they agreed the service level they were willing to pay for, so the the next time you’re thinking of giving them a direct routeing….!

  • Adrian Smith
    August 4, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    That is quite an amazing graph. If I am reading it right we have 20% fewer ATCOs and a big increase in traffic. That shows how much harder each ATCO is working.

  • carl ogier
    August 4, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    This is what the airlines wanted. This is now what they are getting and it’s only going to get worse. Now they start to moan. Cake and eat it comes to mind. Ironically cutting staff has left big shortages in area, approach and aerodrome with many managers scratching their heads for a solution. You only have to look at Gatwicks and Birminghams pay offer to realise how short everyone are. Costs will rocket as staff are a premium and thin on the ground. Training takes years, but retention is soon to be a huge issue.

  • clem lopez
    August 4, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    This is what ryanair wanted. Cost cut…….with cost cutting there are consequences. Overtime is not the solution. Who is being made accountable for the recent short staffing levels? I am pretty sure they would say we are not even short……

  • Andrew Gordon
    August 4, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    As usual Ryanair want their cake and eat it !! Come to Prestwick Centre Mr O’Leary and see the day to day pressure that the cuts your airline insisted have put the Centre staff under and I don’t just mean the ATCOs !!

  • mike hughes
    August 4, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    That table doesn’t make for good reading. Maybe when Ryanair criticise ATC in the national media and on tv we should, for once, bang our own drum to those same media outlets and present them with it. I still think the travelling public often lump us together with those countries who’s ATC strike through year. Presentation of a table like this in response to Ryanair’s criticism would go some way to at least get the UK public in our corner for any future issues that may come our way.

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