Transport Minister refusing to intervene in row between air traffic controllers and management

The standoff could disrupt Irish airspace and a number of unauthorised work stoppages in recent months have already caused temporary shutdowns at Irish airports
Transport Minister refusing to intervene in row between air traffic controllers and management

Unauthorised work stoppages by a number of air traffic controllers led to temporary shutdowns at Shannon and Cork airports in July. Picture: IAA

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan is refusing to intervene in an escalating row between Irish air traffic controllers and their management which threatens to disrupt Irish airspace.

A group of controllers has written to Mr Ryan and other elected representatives to highlight concerns over alleged poor treatment of staff by Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) management and lack of adequate cover caused by roster changes.

Mr Ryan has said he has ordered a briefing from the IAA as to why unauthorised work stoppages occurred this summer by a number of air traffic controllers. The IAA has now provided this briefing and refutes allegations made by the air traffic controllers.

Letters seen by the Irish Examiner suggest that as a result of a lack of Air Traffic Control services, temporary shutdowns occurred at Shannon and Cork airports in July.

They also state that a temporary closure of airspace over Dublin airport was narrowly avoided.

The controllers have said they are raising alarm as to new roster changes which are being enforced “under protest and duress”.

Given the level of unhappiness, the controllers, which are thought to amount to about 30% of the country's 300 operators, have called for the management of the IAA to be replaced.

Green Party leader and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has urged the Irish air traffic controllers and their management to use established methods to resolve the dispute. File picture: Damien Storan
Green Party leader and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has urged the Irish air traffic controllers and their management to use established methods to resolve the dispute. File picture: Damien Storan

Responding to parliamentary questions from TDs, Mr Ryan has made clear he wants the issue handled internally by the IAA board and executive.

“In recent days, I have received email correspondence from many individual air traffic controllers outlining their concerns regarding workplace issues within the IAA,” Mr Ryan said.

The issues raised in this correspondence are matters which fall to be addressed by the board and executive of the IAA

“I have sought and received a briefing from the IAA on the concerns raised in the correspondence, and on the unofficial industrial action which, in recent months, has resulted in temporary staff shortages at State airports.”

Mr Ryan said that as with any industrial relations matter, it is in the best interests of all parties to utilise established dispute resolution processes.

“I understand in the IAA's case this includes the Internal Dispute Resolution Charter and processes, the adoption and operation of which have been jointly utilised by the IAA and its staff representative bodies for some time now,” he said.

"With this in mind, and in the wider context of an aviation sector that, like so many others in society, has been severely impacted by Covid-19 and is now trying to get back on its feet as we see the first tentative signs of economic recovery, perhaps now is an opportunity for reflection and re-engagement by the parties involved."

In a statement issued on Sunday afternoon, the IAA said it is aware of the letter sent by air traffic controllers and it has provided an update to Mr Ryan "refuting the allegations in their entirety". 

The IAA advised staff and representatives to engage through the established industrial relations framework to resolve the issues, and said it will not comment on "individual and confidential staff matters".

It added that "at no point" have European safety regulations regarding air traffic management been compromised. 

The IAA is responsible for the management of Irish airspace, the safety regulation of civil aviation, and the regulation of the general aviation sector.

Under a government decision, the regulatory function of the IAA must be separate from the business side which provides commercial air navigation services.

The IAA has also found itself in hot water with members of the general aviation sector who are up in arms to changes in Irish airspace around some airports which they say disenfranchise private pilots in favour of large commercial airlines.

The Forsa trade union, which represents controllers, has said it has been appealing to the IAA to cease what it called an over-reliance on overtime to ensure enough controllers are on duty.

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