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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 18 Jun 1991

Vol. 409 No. 9

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Air Traffic Control System.

Eamon Gilmore


11 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications if the Government plans to privatise the country's air traffic control system; if so, the reason; if he has considered the implications for air safety of such a move; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jim Kemmy


33 Mr. Kemmy asked the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications whether the Government intend to establish a new semi-State company to take opportunity for air traffic control; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 33 together.

The air traffic control service in my Department is part of the Air Navigation Services Office — ANSO. As I have told the House on a previous occasion, I am considering proposals for the restructuring of ANSO but no decision has yet been reached in the matter.

I can assure the House, however, that I have no plans to privatise the Air Navigation Services Office. Furthermore, safety is, and will continue to be, the guiding principle for ANSO and for the air traffic control service.

I am delighted to hear the Minister say that safety will be one of the top of priorities of ANSO. Would the Minister not agree that he has condemned both himself and the Government by acknowledging that Government control has led to staff shortages and inefficiency in this sector? He said that the problems in regard to air traffic control were the result of the Government's lack of long term vision. In view of the fact that approximately 500 aircraft fly over this country every day and approximately five million passengers use Dublin Airport every year, can the Minister give the House an assurance that he will lift the ridiculous ban on recruitment in the air traffic control sector? The safety of passengers using our airports and those overflying our country must be guaranteed.

I do not recall making the comments the Deputy has ascribed to me.

If the Minister prefers, I can quote the newspaper report. It says——

Deputy Byrne, that would not be in order.

With regard to the question of recruitment, this is one of the few areas where additional recruitment has taken place over the past few years. I should point out to the Deputy that a £30 million investment programme in air traffic control and air navigation is nearing completion. This will give us one of the most up-to-date traffic control systems in the world. There are approximately 600 staff in my Department dealing with air navigation and air traffic control. This is basically an operational matter. One of the options I am looking at is the setting up a new structure which will put some distance between the policy making and operational aspects of the Department.

Is the Minister aware that while there were 271 air traffic controllers ten years ago, there are only 217 today in a business which has doubled in volume during that time? Is he also aware that there is great dissatisfaction among air traffic controllers who have to turn off the radar control so that they can take a break? These overworked staff can no longer keep our airways safe. Will the Minister outline the role he envisages for Aer Rianta in the new structure and when the final plan proposed by the Government will be brought before the House?

The number of air traffic controllers has not changed that much over the years but technology has changed dramatically, particularly in the area of aviation. This has greatly assisted in alleviating the additional workload. I want to join with the Deputy in expressing my admiration for the air traffic controllers who do a very find job. This is why I am particularly anxious, with their agreement, to put them into a new an more commercially-orientated structure which will allow them to grow, earn additional revenue, perhaps do more consultancy work and, without losing sight of their safety duties have a more acute commercial approach to the development of their present business. Handing this over to Aer Rianta, as one of the subsidiary companies, is one of the options I am looking at and the establishment of a new semi-State company is another option. I should be in a position within a few months to bring final proposals before the House.

Question No. 13.

May I ask a brief question?

The Deputy has had a good innings on this question.

I will be very brief, and I know you will be sympathetic to my point. Is the Minister concerned at the fact that air traffic controllers have to shut down their monitors at times so that they can take a break? Does he not agree that this indicates there is a lack of replacement staff in this sector? This is very worrying in terms of the safety of aircraft overflying this country.

Lest anyone gets the wrong impression from this debate, I want to say loud and clear that there is no danger whatsoever to travelling passengers from our air traffic controllers. They do a very fine job and are well within the safety limits. There is absolutely no danger to the travelling public in any way. I am interested in setting up a new structure which will improve the conditions of the workforce in air traffic control and, at the same time, develop a more vibrant organisation of air traffic controllers.