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Axe falls on air traffic controllers

The national air traffic control provider yesterday confirmed services at Gisborne will cease — the same day flights to and from the city restarted.

Passenger safety and airline operations will not be affected by Airways' decision to withdraw air traffic services at seven New Zealand airports, Airways chief executive Graeme Sumner said.

Airways would collaborate with a working party that included the affected airports, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a General aviation (GA) representative and Air New Zealand to plan a safe and orderly transition.

The working group will identify when the current services will be withdrawn from each airport and what type of service, if any, they may be replaced with. This process is expected to take around six months as each airport completes its process.

Airways will withdraw air traffic control services from its towers at Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill airports.

Airways has five staff in Gisborne.

Mr Sumner said the dramatic collapse in flight numbers prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic had hastened the need to make changes to how air navigation services were delivered to ensure their long-term viability.

“Over the past month Airways has worked alongside our staff and their union, the airports concerned and Air New Zealand to determine how we can best respond to the current crisis while also ensuring we are able to help drive the aviation sector's recovery and future growth.

“We extended the timeframe for consulting with and gathering feedback from our people. Airways put constructive and workable proposals to the union's leadership, which would have guaranteed their members' employment for 12 months in exchange for a 25 percent pay reduction.

“It is unfortunate that our people were not given the opportunity to vote on this proposal — an action that is in stark contrast to compromises made by their pilot colleagues,” he said.

The changes could mean the loss of up to 38 positions, with these staff anticipated to leave over the next three to six months. Timings for any redundancies will be confirmed as part of the collaborative process with the airports and CAA.

Airways will also work with staff on any redeployment opportunities.

In direct response, a New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association spokesperson confirmed that Air Traffic Controllers did offer an up to 25 percent cost saving by offering to work 75 percent of their roster, part time, for a 12 month period.

"This makes Mr Sumner’s assertion, as reported, incorrect."

Gisborne Airport is owned by Gisborne District Council and operated by Eastland Group.

“We're in ongoing discussions with Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the NZ Airports association and other affected airports,” said Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd.

“There is a meeting this afternoon to begin working through the next steps.

“These steps will include developing a safety case, determining the level of service required at Gisborne Airport and considering different options for how this could be implemented.

“We will be engaging in detail with local airport users and stakeholders, and listening to their views as to what service level they require.

“We're open to understanding what the outcomes might be but safety is paramount, and the process must be robust and independent.

“Gisborne District Council is being kept updated.”

IN CONTROL: Air traffic controllers pictured at Gisborne Airport in January, last year during the Darton Field Wings and Wheels airshow. The air traffic control service at Gisborne is to cease, along with towers at Hawke's Bay, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill. Picture by Liam Clayton

  1. Dave says:

    I just hope that safety has not been compromised in the name of saving dollars. Will they invest in the technology to replace these staff? I really hope that we don’t see an accident at one of the airports where the service has been removed.

    1. Betty Shepherd, Rotorua says:

      Air NZ has been flying for years into Whangarei, Timaru, Kerikeri without air traffic control. There is a public perception that no control means ‘lack of safety’ – nothing could be further from the truth.
      It’s in a pilot’s best interest to use the communications available to them to make sure that their flight is safe.
      I am not only talking about commercial airlines, there are many other aircraft in the sky in the GA (General Aviation) area.
      Dave, it may pay to talk to a pilot and believe me, you will then have a better understanding on how it actually works.

      1. Craig, Rotorua says:

        It seems interesting that a commercial pilot who featured on the front page the day after this article dimisses your comment completely. Maybe you don’t know as much as you think you do. To believe safety will not be affected makes you very naive.

  2. Peter Ford says:

    Can someone in authority tell us “would be passengers” the truth about Gisborne’s safety re airport control tower measures?
    Cheers.