Concerned over the 'high' number of airport incidents, a parliamentary committee has suggested alcohol tests for air-traffic controllers (ATCOs) as in the case of pilots, but also recommended a hike in their pay and reduction in working hours to retain them.
Maintaining that 'high alertness' on the part of air-traffic control officers was crucial for air safety, it said it was 'incumbent upon every one of them (ATC personnel) to perform their duties with utmost care and caution' and sought introducing a system of breath analysis/alcohol tests as done for pilots before they logged in for duty.
In its 37th report, the Committee on Public Undertakings asked the Airports Authority of India to take prompt measures to attract, recruit and retain an adequate number of qualified ATCOs.
This, it said, could be done by 'reviewing working hours, making working conditions more attractive and upgrading suitably the salary structure and career progression'.
These measures were required because of the 'stressful and sensitive nature' of an ATCO's job and 'the revelation that a high percentage of airport incidents have been attributed to ATC personnel,' the CPU, headed by senior CPI(M) MP Rupchand Pal, said.
Regarding their working hours, the Committee said the 42 hours of work time per week for ATCOs was 'higher than that of a civil servant with a job that is less strenuous at 40 hours a week'.
Expressing concern that there had been no recruitment of ATCOs for a long time, it said an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation had pointed towards lack of policies, procedures and programmes to determine staffing requirements for an adequate air traffic system, including recruiting staff.
The civil aviation ministry, in its response, said the recruitment of 248 junior executive ATCOs has been concluded recently, while the services of retired personnel were also being availed of to meet the current shortage.
The newly-created training establishment at Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad would also help in reducing the shortage in 'the next couple of years', the ministry said.