Air Traffic Controller (ATC)
Air Traffic Controller (ATC)Reuters

More and more airlines in India are planning fleet expansion to cater to the rising number of air passengers even though there is acute shortage of Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) to control the growing air traffic in the country. 

Currently, India lacks ATCs to smoothly conduct day-to-day operations. More flights and more passengers should ideally mean more air traffic controllers. The Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport in New Delhi, which is the busiest airport in the country with a capacity of handling 34 million passengers on a yearly basis, alone would need about 600 ATC staff for the smooth handling of air traffic, Bloomberg reported.

Flight operations at risk

The IGI airport remains understaffed with current headcount of about 360 people. This could lead to flight operations being put at a risk and create hazardous situations, according to an aerospace expert.

"When you have a minimum requirement of 600 staff and are operating on half that figure, it stands to reason that pressure on those staff will rise. Safety is compromised because over-worked staff tends to lose concentration, become demoralized and make mistakes. In aviation, a mistake is one thing everyone wants to avoid," aerospace expert Saj Ahmad, who is chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, told International Business Times, India.

Salaries are pitiful, positions are vacant

About two months back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government unveiled a new civil aviation policy. Under the regional flight scheme, the government plans to connect hundreds of regional airports in the country to provide the common man the option of travelling by flights. 

However, most of the employees leave jobs with state-run Airports Authority of India, where salaries are as low as Rs. 16,500 and look for lucrative jobs with private airlines.

"Salaries are pathetic — there is no escaping the reality. For all the industrial might India has, it severely lags its European and U.S. counterparts. This too is why recruitment has suffered because people seek better remuneration. This is why many airline and airport staff opt to venture to places like Dubai and Doha where wages and conditions are far better," Ahmad added.

One third of India's ATC positions are vacant.

The road ahead

Over the next 14 years, there will be a requirement of 40,000 air traffic controllers to handle flights, according to a study by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In Asia, considered as the fastest growing air travel market, there are very few training facilities and the region is bound to have a shortfall of 1,000 controllers every year, the Bloomberg report added.