I propose to take Questions Nos. 395 and 399 together.
Actions are under way to return a full level of air traffic control services to the Air Corps. Air Traffic Control training is taking place and options to ensure the longer-term sustainability of Air Traffic Control services in Baldonnel are being identified and a mentor is also now in place to aid the newly appointed ATC Squadron Commander in Baldonnel. These measures will facilitate a gradual extension of operational hours for air traffic control services in Baldonnel over the year, beginning this May, as newly qualified personnel develop their experience.
The Air Corps continues to provide a broad range of services on a daily basis for a diverse range of tasks such as Army and Naval Service support, the Emergency Aero - medical Service, maritime patrols and fishery protection, the Ministerial Air Transport Service, inter-hospital transfers and Aid to the Civil Power duties including the Garda Air Support Unit and cash escorts.
The level of availability of Air Corps aircraft for such tasks has reduced. This reduction is not due to cuts in personnel but largely because the Air Corps has experienced retirements of highly experienced personnel. These retirements are outstripping the recruitment and training of replacement personnel. The loss of experienced personnel is driven by a range of factors, including the availability of attractive job opportunities in the private and commercial semi-state sectors.
I want to assure the Deputy that, while there has been this loss of experienced personnel, there is significant work underway in the Defence Organisation (civil and military) aimed at improving the capacity of the Air Corps. This includes:
- Pilot Cadets in training,
- Cadet Recruitment Campaign underway,
- Four personnel will complete Air Traffic Control training between May and September this year,
- The Air Corps is currently inducting a further Air Traffic Control Course,
- NCO Vacancies in the Air Corps will be filled from the recently launched NCO promotion competition.
Decisions on when the Air Corps will be in a position to return to full capacity will be based on a continuous risk assessment. The Air Corps’ ability to consolidate its personnel and experience profile is central to this risk assessment.
While there are a number of initiatives underway, realistically it will take time for a return to previous levels of capability in the Air Corps. This approach will be governed by the overarching requirements of safety.
With regard to Air Traffic Control (ATC) training, it is envisaged that sufficient personnel will be technically qualified to re-establish 24 hours services in Quarter 1 2018. This is allowing for normal failure rates associated with Air Traffic Control training. The re-establishment of 24 hours operations at Casement Aerodrome is a priority for the military authorities.
Air Traffic Controllers are required to be of the rank of Sergeant at least, in order to fulfil the duties of Duty Air Traffic Control Officer (DATCO) i.e. solely responsible for the safe operation and control of the aerodrome outside normal duty hours.