The reporter expressed a safety concern that controllers are being returned to work after a safety incident, such as a Loss of Separation, before the investigation into the incident has been conducted. The reporter stated that after a controller was stood down due to a Loss of Separation, they were transferred to a different area (which they were rated for) - before the investigation was initiated.
The reporter is concerned that a risk control has been removed when the procedure for standing down the controller was not followed. If the Loss of Separation occurred for a personal reason - such as a health problem or distraction due to a personal problem - the error is likely to reoccur.
The reporter also stated that as controller numbers diminish, the likelihood of this procedure not being followed increases, removing a very valuable defence mechanism.
Operator's response (Operator 1)
Airservices Australia (Airservices) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the reported safety concerns regarding air traffic controllers returning to work after a safety incident prior to the completion of the associated investigation. Airservices clarifies that the completion of a safety incident investigation is not required to reinstate a controller's ATS license privileges.
The Incident/Remedial Management procedure described in Part 5 of Airservices National ATS Administration Manual states that when any situation occurs that has or may cause a risk to the continued safe operation of the National Airways System (NAS), the responsible Manager/Delegate is required to consider potential personal, organisational, operational and the individual controller's fitness for duty and general wellbeing in making an assessment of the continued competency of the individual. This includes consideration of any potential risks to the safe operation of the NAS.
The procedure permits a responsible Manager/Delegate to accept an appropriate level of risk associated with a controller's continued operational status after a safety incident if effective risk mitigation strategies are in place and continually monitored. These mitigation strategies may include workload management, reduction in task complexity and/or additional support, observation or supervision.
Each circumstance must be assessed on its merits and in all cases the Manager/Delegate must record the decision, any identified risks and the mitigation actions put in place if the controller is permitted to continue to operate.
Regulator's response (Regulator 1)
CASA has noted Airservices' response. In its surveillance of Air Traffic Services, CASA routinely monitors Loss of Separation incidents and the circumstances surrounding them. The concern expressed in this REPCON will be assessed as part of the future focus of this oversight activity.