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Plan to shift half of Sydney’s air traffic controllers to Melbourne

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Plan to shift half of Sydney’s air traffic controllers to Melbourne

Old 25th Apr 2021, 21:42
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Plan to shift half of Sydney’s air traffic controllers to Melbourne

Plan to shift half of Sydney’s air traffic controllers to Melbourne

By Matt O'Sullivan, April 26, 2021

Aircraft flying through all but a small part of greater Sydney’s airspace would be handled by a control centre in Melbourne under a controversial plan partly aimed at cutting costs by shifting up to half the city’s air traffic controllers to Victoria.

Airservices Australia’s plan to relocate up to 65 air traffic controllers to Melbourne from its terminal control unit at Sydney Airport is contained in internal briefing documents seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

One of Airservices’ justifications for the shift is a need for “more cost-efficient solutions” due to the financial strain on the aviation industry from the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal corporation’s documents say the “transfer of services” to Melbourne will help it “avoid the costs of significant infrastructure replacement” in Sydney.

The building at Sydney Airport where the 65 air-traffic controllers are based is “nearing [the] end of life”, and there is no guarantee the long-term lease on it will be extended when it expires in 2034 because the site is designated for commercial use. It also argues “deeper pools of skilled professionals” are available only at its larger facilities such as those in Melbourne.

The controllers who work in the terminal control unit at Sydney Airport use radar control screens to sequence and separate aircraft in an area stretching from Shellharbour in the south, the Central Coast in the north, Katoomba in the west and out above the Tasman Sea.

The relocation would directly affect 65 of 130 air traffic controllers in Sydney. It would not impact those in the control tower at Sydney Airport who guide aircraft within about seven kilometres of the tarmac. Greater Sydney’s airspace is easily the country’s busiest.

Civil Air, the union representing air traffic controllers, said it was concerned about the plan and it would be on the agenda of a national executive meeting on Wednesday.

“We have been through this on previous occasions and it has not stood up to scrutiny for various financial, operational and technical issues,” Civil Air executive secretary Peter McGuane said.

An air traffic controller, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of those affected in Sydney did not want to relocate.

A major concern is controllers in Melbourne will not be as familiar with Sydney’s geography, which could potentially impact on small aircraft.

“It is not so much the international or domestic aircraft – it is the general aviation community. Those are the scariest emergencies for us because we are dealing with less trained pilots and older aircraft. The knowledge of the controller becomes such a key factor,” the controller said.

Sydney has up to 650 aircraft movements a day, which is not far off an average of about 850 before the pandemic hit last year.

“Traffic is increasing already and most of the controllers think the window they have targeted [to relocate] has already closed,” the controller said.

The terminal control unit at Sydney Airport also manages aircraft arriving at and departing from Richmond, Bankstown and Camden airports, in concert with the control towers at each of those locations.

Airservices expects to make a final decision in June about the shift, a process which would take about two years to complete.

Airservices confirmed it was in the “initial stages” of consulting staff on the future of the Sydney control unit, adding there would be “no required job losses”.

“The management of terminal area airspace from major air traffic service centres is safe and a model used around the world,” a spokeswoman said.

She said Sydney’sairspace would continue to be managed by specialist controllers with a deep understanding of it. “The only thing that will change is the location of this service,” she said.

Airservices said the investigation into the feasibility of integrating the Sydney unit into the Melbourne air traffic service centre was driven by the pandemic.

“It is also important that Airservices strives to keep air traffic control costs as low as possible to assist the aviation industry’s recovery from COVID-19,” the spokeswoman said.

Over the past two decades, terminal control services for Canberra, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Cairns have been centralised in Melbourne and Brisbane.


The Sydney Morning Herald

Matt O'Sullivan is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.
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Old 25th Apr 2021, 23:59
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All the eggs in one basket.

I was under the impression that the physical Sydney and Melbourne centres were backups for each other.
Is that actually true ?

If most of the control moves to Melbourne then where, (and how big), will the disaster-centre(s) be ?
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 00:10
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Originally Posted by KittyKatKaper View Post
I was under the impression that the physical Sydney and Melbourne centres were backups for each other.
Is that actually true ?

If most of the control moves to Melbourne then where, (and how big), will the disaster-centre(s) be ?
The 2 main centres are in Brisbane and Melbourne and yes they can be configured to provide contingency in the event that one falls over- albeit not 100% capacity of course.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 00:15
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A major concern is controllers in Melbourne will not be as familiar with Sydney’s geography, which could potentially impact on small aircraft.

“It is not so much the international or domestic aircraft – it is the general aviation community. Those are the scariest emergencies for us because we are dealing with less trained pilots and older aircraft. The knowledge of the controller becomes such a key factor,” the controller said.
Well I’ve seen this argument put forward multiple times in the past 40 years, Tassie, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Cairns- not saying it doesn’t have some validity- but it’s eventually been ignored in every case.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 01:07
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West Coast Best Coast

Perth’s still in Perth, although it goes without saying that the RAAF had a say in that one.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 01:26
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I think the basic premise is true, Sydney is an expensive place so the ATCS get (I think) 12% more than others for living there. Road traffic is a nightmare and Sydney Airport want their land back.
Airservices also do not think like other ANSPs, who generally put Approach Control next to their towers. This means a Tower might have an Approach Centre half-way up the building, it also aids in cross-training. Western Sydney was probably an option, but I'll bet my boots that Airservices wants to put in a digital (remote) Tower!
Not sure why Perth App is still in Perth given that everything outside 30NM is controlled from Melbourne. CMATS shows most of the QLD RAAF units moving to Brisbane so why not Perth and Pearce to Melbourne?

The British NATS had the same problem with London Approach which was in old RAF hangers north of Heathrow, they moved the facility to a new ATC Centre at Swanwick, near Southampton, a beautiful part of England. Once all of the problems with housing, schools, partners jobs and so on were fixed, I am sure the controllers are much happier.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 04:03
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The best strategy would just be to say: fine do it. Then sit back and watch.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 06:11
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Originally Posted by Mr Approach View Post
I think the basic premise is true, Sydney is an expensive place so the ATCS get (I think) 12% more than others for living there.
Sydney ATCs do get paid more than their colleagues at Melbourne and Brisbane (etc), however is based on complexity argument that the Union run and won back in 1988 or 1989.
The problem is that someone from Sydney who applies for ATC will be most likely posted to Melbourne or Brisbane, or to one of the Towers around the country. Very few are able to get a direct return to Sydney, maybe half a dozen people in the past decade.

Originally Posted by Mr Approach View Post
Once all of the problems with housing, schools, partners jobs and so on were fixed, I am sure the controllers are much happier.
Enlightened organisations hire skilled relocation practitioners to assist as they realise that they need to get their employees and their families settled quickly and smoothly. Assistance to find GP, DAME, dentist, vet or whatever ancillary services the family would need in their chosen local area. Would AirServices deem it an "own time, own expense" transfer? Probably not.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 09:39
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I wouldn’t be so sure the Swanwick controllers are happier now than when they could live near London. Obviously it suits some, but career opportunities for partners and children are still quite London-centric. Moving away from West Drayton was supposed to facilitate cost savings, but Swanwick always seemed an odd choice being a very expensive edge of the country.

Good luck to the Sydney staff for the years of disruption and moving time-lines ahead of them.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 13:17
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The 2 main centres are in Brisbane and Melbourne and yes they can be configured to provide contingency in the event that one falls over- albeit not 100% capacity of course.
Hahaha. In theory. So Melbourne experiences a disaster, how do the rated Melbourne controllers get to BNE? The Brisbane guys will not be rated on the sectors for Melbourne. Will any aircraft be flying? It is a long bus trip.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 21:47
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Originally Posted by Icarus2001 View Post
Hahaha. In theory. So Melbourne experiences a disaster, how do the rated Melbourne controllers get to BNE? The Brisbane guys will not be rated on the sectors for Melbourne. Will any aircraft be flying? It is a long bus trip.
I dare say that it’s merely a contingency that doesn’t require ratings on the individual sectors. That may come with restrictions such as flow rates etc.

Either way, they wouldn’t be so stupid as to require controllers from the opposite centre to physically be there providing the service
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 22:22
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Originally Posted by Mr Approach View Post
I think the basic premise is true, Sydney is an expensive place so the ATCS get (I think) 12% more than others for living there. Road traffic is a nightmare and Sydney Airport want their land back.
Airservices also do not think like other ANSPs, who generally put Approach Control next to their towers. This means a Tower might have an Approach Centre half-way up the building, it also aids in cross-training. Western Sydney was probably an option, but I'll bet my boots that Airservices wants to put in a digital (remote) Tower!
Not sure why Perth App is still in Perth given that everything outside 30NM is controlled from Melbourne. CMATS shows most of the QLD RAAF units moving to Brisbane so why not Perth and Pearce to Melbourne?

The British NATS had the same problem with London Approach which was in old RAF hangers north of Heathrow, they moved the facility to a new ATC Centre at Swanwick, near Southampton, a beautiful part of England. Once all of the problems with housing, schools, partners jobs and so on were fixed, I am sure the controllers are much happier.
While it's true level 10 in Sydney pays more than other locations an ab initio on rating takes 10 years in Sydney to get there. It's very rare for double increments which are not unusual in some other locations.. Levels 1 - 9 are the same as everywhere. So it's a long term proposition and while I know everywhere has its own complexities, Sydney seems to have a lot of them. Just wait for crossing modes and TWY H no longer being available for taxiing or holding with traffic on final RWY 07, and did somebody say INTAS.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 23:47
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Just wait for crossing modes and TWY H no longer being available for taxiing or holding with traffic on final RWY 07, and did somebody say INTAS.
Thought the story said the Tower staffing was staying as is.
So what’s the relevance of this to APP/DEP controllers who will be moved to Melbourne?
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Old 27th Apr 2021, 00:19
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If they were still controlling the same airspace then it's a lot easier for them to make the move than if they had to get used to a new area, particularly for an older controller. I heard of a case abroad where the man in the chair had been used to handling a primarily North - South traffic flow, when he was moved to a different sector the traffic was primarily East - West and he struggled.

Remote working is becoming the new normal with advantages for both employers and employees, the need to concentrate staff in high cost locations is lessening and the employee can enjoy a better quality of life on a lower salary.
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Old 27th Apr 2021, 00:55
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Originally Posted by LapSap View Post
Thought the story said the Tower staffing was staying as is.
So what’s the relevance of this to APP/DEP controllers who will be moved to Melbourne?
It’s probably a more generic comment on centralisation. DAS is tipped to be the ‘Tower’ of choice for Western Sydney so theres no reason Sydney tower can’t be digitised when the next lot of bean counters decide the risk is worth (their) reward.
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Old 27th Apr 2021, 05:20
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Initial figures suggest that more than 75% of current staff, or around 1000 years of experience, won’t go. That means the busiest and most complex airspace in Australia, about to get more complex with the introduction of Badgery’s, will be controlled by novices. Yes, they’ll be licensed controllers so it may be safe, but it certainly won’t be efficient. Anyone who thinks this won’t impact on industry in a major way has rocks in their heads. I wonder if Airservices included that in their numbers.
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Old 28th Apr 2021, 01:53
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Decision by June.

No mention of the year.
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Old 28th Apr 2021, 02:18
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Originally Posted by DROPS View Post
Decision by June.

No mention of the year.
Yes. The old "run it up the flag pole and see who salutes" approach.

They'll how much blow back they get before pushing that thru.
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