|Cameron Stewart | August 26, 2008 The Australian
THE air force does not have enough air traffic controllers to monitor all its planes and has pleaded with staff not to quit for better-paid civilian jobs.
RAAF chief Air Marshal Mark Binskin has written to his 237 air traffic controllers urging that they not feel "pressured hastily" into resigning, promising them more money and "aggressive" action to improve their conditions.
The move is aimed at stemming a recent spate of resignations among RAAF controllers, many of whom have joined the civil air traffic control manager Airservices Australia, which is also desperately short of qualified controllers.
An Airservices spokesman said it had offered jobs to 14 RAAF controllers so far this year and the air force admitted it was now suffering an 8.1per cent shortfall of military controllers.
As a result, the RAAF conceded that it could no longer adequately monitor all of its military flights around defence airfields.
"Individual air traffic control officer shortages at some Australian Defence Force bases at times have resulted in restrictions to air traffic services to military aircraft," a defence spokesman said.
Defence has its own network of air traffic controllers which - apart from several exceptions - is separate to the civil network of controllers.
Defence controllers are distributed across 11 ADF bases including at Townsville, Amberley, Williamtown, Darwin, Nowra and Tindal.
But concerns about the growing shortage of RAAF controllers prompted Air Marshal Binskin to write an impassioned plea to them this month to remain with the military.
"Do not allow yourself to be pressured hastily into taking positions outside of air force that are likely to be available for many years to come," he wrote in a letter dated August 7 and obtained by The Australian.
"I recognise the competitive external environment and have directed the investigation of targeted remuneration options in the short term."
Air Marshal Binskin said he had ordered "aggressive" action, including contracting specialist industrial advisers to look at improvements in conditions.
"While I acknowledge that some of you may choose to leave the air force to pursue other opportunities, I urge you to look closely at the value package which air force provides before electing to do so," Air Marshal Binskin writes.
"I also urge you to look closely at the culture, environment and current working practices that are evident in outside employment and analyse closely the opportunities available in defence by comparison."
His comments are a thinly veiled swipe at Airservices, which has been involved in a public dispute with its 800 civilian controllers, who have accused the agency of failing to properly manage staffing levels.
Defence says it currently has 212 RAAF and 25 defence department air traffic controllers, an 8.1per cent shortfall on its target workforce of 223 RAAF and 35 defence controllers.
A defence spokesman declined to say how much extra money would be offered to military controllers to help attract and retain them.
At present, newly qualified RAAF controllers receive a salary and allowance of almost $60,000, compared with about $72,000 for a similarly qualified civilian controller.
A national shortage of air traffic controllers has left large slabs of the skies unmonitored for hours at a time this year.
60k for RAAFies and 72k for civy controllers you have to be ferking kidding me!!!!!
I know production workers who stick badges on cars who get paid more than that. Personally the only thing I don't get is why all the ATC's, civil and military haven't already quit.
Considering the stress and responsibility of the role they should be paid more than senior comercial pilots not less than half!