Airport Staff Shortages Could Reduce Flying Hours This Summer

Panel members at Wednesday's Transport User Forum

Panel members at Wednesday’s Transport User Forum

St Mary’s Airport could be forced to reduce flying hours this summer because of staffing problems.

One of their air traffic controllers leaves this week and the Council has not found anyone to take her place.

Scilly Today reporter Andy Hargreaves questioned Council Chief Executive Theo Leisjer about plans for continuity of airport services at the Transport User Forum in the Town Hall yesterday.

Theo said the community is aware that a number of air traffic controllers are leaving and it’s been “extremely hard” to find any new staff.

The Council operates the airport, but Mr Leisjer told the meeting that he could not guarantee that the facility would stay open for its current operating hours during the season.

The problem is that our airport operates what’s called ‘approach control.’ There are only three other similar airports in the country and air traffic controllers with those skills are “like gold dust,” says Theo.

He says the Council is going to address the shortage by attempting to train locals. They’ve found people who want to do the job but they won’t be qualified for a while.

The shortage of ATC staff means that Sunday flying is also off the table.

Theo said more controllers would be needed to open the airport longer. He said there are strict working hours rules and to open seven days they’d need to increase staff.

There’s close scrutiny of St Mary’s Airport by the regulator, currently. The CAA placed the facility under ‘special attention’ in November, when they became aware of staff concerns over the internal restructuring of the airport’s operations.

The changes were put in place as part of the Council’s redevelopment and cost-cutting exercise.

But the Council has actually increased airport costs, as they’ve had to bring in agency ATC personnel to fill staff gaps.

13 Responses to Airport Staff Shortages Could Reduce Flying Hours This Summer

  1. cassie April 22, 2014 at 10:13 am

    This site is full of armchair experts who don’t live on Scilly commenting on matters which they know nothing about. I am a frequent visitor who sometimes comments on things which concern me, like the quality of accommodation. I would not dream of telling the council what to do! Let them do their difficult job and leave the unwanted advice to yourself! You know who you are!

  2. Paul Whittaker April 21, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Now then Peter. I think you should base your comments on facts and not on assumptions, guesstimating or something you made up. We have lost 3 ATCS in the last few weeks all for different reasons and are having had trouble finding suitable replacements.
    If you read my previous comment you will see that I said my flight had been changed not cancelled as you wrote.
    Let`s stick to reality and not fantasy and hope the situation improves.

  3. Paul Whittaker April 18, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    This story should read that it will reduce flying time this summer. I have to go away for the day next Wednesday and Skybus rang me today to change my flight times because of air traffic control restrictions. They made it sound like the airport was going to be closed for a period of time twice on that day.

  4. Peter April 18, 2014 at 10:02 am

    A further point. As others have said here, was employment law followed when the council “found people who want to do the job”? Also, we are told by the Chief Exec that these specialised Air Traffic Controllers are “like gold dust”. It seems to me that ANY Air Traffic Controllers are like gold dust. It’s an incredibly demanding job, often quoted as the most stressful job there is, so what does the council do? Annoy the ATCs, who no doubt are already stressed, to the point where “a number” leave. Don’t throw away gold dust. I’ve just looked at the Civil Aviation Authority website and, in a nutshell, you need an education equivalent to that required to get into university and, crucially, impeccable health. And that’s just for basic ATC training, not the specialised stuff needed for Scilly. I have a relative who was amazed to be turned down recently for ATC training because of a minor hearing problem. Now, as with the limited pool of talent in Scilly for the role of councillor, as several of us have highlighted, I would have thought that there is a VERY VERY limited pool of people amongst locals who have the necessary requirements to do the job of Air Traffic Controller. Something doesn’t ring true here.
    We were in John o’Groats this time last year and went into the only bar/restaurant there. I went to get another drink but no-one was serving. A local told me the barperson had “just gone to put one of her clients to bed” (she was a domiciliary care worker as well). I can just imagine a local Scillonian closing her shop for half-an-hour whilst she guides in the 9.45 from Exeter.

    • Helen Glenn April 18, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Peter- please don’t make the assumption that Atc are leaving because they are stressed or that the council as their employer has annoyed them. Also, please don’t patronise the local population by assuming that there is no one living on Scilly who could undertake Atc training, it’s been done in the past very successfully and I’m sure can be done again.

      • Peter April 20, 2014 at 11:33 am

        Helen: I’m not local and I’m guessing you are and that you have better knowledge than I, so I take your point. All my comments on this site are based on the assumption that Scilly Today reporting is fair and reasonably accurate. The report says that “a number” of ATCs are leaving and links the CAA’s “special attention” to “staff concerns over the internal restructuring of the airport’s operations”. I took that to mean ATCs are stressed by the actions of the airport’s management, which is Scilly Council. You say I patronise the local population. I’m sorry if my comments gave that impression. My point is (and I’m guesstimating the following numbers): there are about 2000 people in Scilly. Let’s say 500 are children, 500 are retired, 1000 are working age. Many of the thousand will be employed already and therefore would not want to or be able to train as ATCs. Of those remaining few who are unemployed, or want a change of job, some will have poor eyesight or hearing, or will lack the necessary academic qualifications. This brings the numbers down to very few. Or, and this is my point about closing the shop to guide in the 9.45 from Exeter, they will be multi-tasking part-time ATCs, and the ability to multi-task is one of the many reasons I have great respect for so many Scillonians. You say it’s been done before successfully. Yes, but I’m guessing not in an emergency, as now, when several ATCs need to be trained quickly. As we can see from the post above from Paul Whittaker, the lack of ATCs seems to be already causing flight cancellations. The airport and the harbour are Scilly’s two most important assets. Without them, Scilly is finished. Insufficient ATCs = cancelled flights = fewer visitors = reduced income for every Scillonian (as everyone’s livelihood ultimately depends on tourism) = one step nearer to the islands ceasing to be viable. What on earth was Scilly Council thinking of when they failed to take care of such a precious commodity as their ATCs? I’d be driving the ATCs to the airport each day in a Rolls Royce and fanning them with feathers whilst they worked, so crucial are they to the future of the islands.

  5. Peter April 17, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    This appears to be yet another foreseeable cock-up by Scilly Council. Every so often on this messageboard I will continue to say – until it happens, as it inevitably will, once central government realises what’s going on in Scilly – that Cornwall County Council should take over the administration of the islands in the hope that more competent administrators, councillors and managers will save these beloved islands. If we leave it to the representatives selected from the limited pool of talent in the local community (and – read carefully – that’s not an insult – you simply would not find enough talent in ANY group of two thousand people), sadly, the islands will be ruined as a place to live and to visit. Most Scilly Councillors appear to be way out of their depth. They need rescuing.

  6. yet another islander April 17, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Is it the officers or the members? All I know for sure it’s rapidly turning into a farce.

  7. Traveller April 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    This is not very encourageing for tourism! Fog is bad enough but imagine turning up for your flight to st marys to be told it is cancelled as nobody is available to wave the plane in!!

  8. Jonny Exile April 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Is the Isles of Scilly Council the only one in the country where the elected Councillors leave the local radio station to hold its Officers to account?

    • Nobby Nobbs April 17, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      The trouble is with the quality of councillor,
      unfortunately there is a very shallow gene pool from which to choose.
      And given that the councillors are in effect all amateurs that come and go over the years, while the officers are professionals in it for the long haul and the gold plated pension, is it any wonder that the officers can run rings round the councillors.
      Don’t forget the councillors are advised by the officers, so they (the councillors) either have to become expert on numerous subjects, or they have to trust what the officer tells them is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
      Add into the mix the process and procedures that the civil service has created over the years to keep their masters in check and then add in employment law and then the islands incestuous dynamic and one does actually end up sympathising with the councillors who genuinely wish to make a difference, because it must be like wading through treacle.
      The fact that anything gets done at all is to be commended.
      However, that all said the councillors must remember that they are in effect the employer and the officers are the employees, and as such the councillors have every right to hold the officers to account up to and including dismissal for gross misconduct, that’s if the councillors have the stomach for though.

  9. Nobby Nobbs April 17, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    “He says the Council is going to address the shortage by attempting to train locals. They’ve found people who want to the job it but they won’t be qualified for a while.”

    Has the council followed employment law and advertised these posts?

  10. Confused April 17, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I haven’t seen job adverts put up by the council to advertise these ATC posts.