Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR20200075
Date reported 26 October 2020
Concern title Reduced staffing levels at Gold Coast Tower.
Concern summary

Safety concern related to reduced staffing levels at Gold Coast Tower.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Airspace management
Concern subject type Aviation: Air Traffic Control

Reporter's concern

Multiple reporters have further raised a safety concern regarding reduced staffing levels at Gold Coast Tower.

In addition to the concerns raised in AR202000031, the reporters are concerned that while Airservices has justified the number of controllers on the roster, the availability of endorsed controllers for the specific tasks required is insufficient.

One reporter provided a recent example where three controllers were rostered for a shift; however, one controller called in sick, and another was returning after a prolonged period away and needed to be checked. This resulted in one controller conducting checking duties on a non-current controller, while being responsible for traffic services and conducting Shift Manager duties.

A second reporter advised that the ‘teams’ roster has no resilience should an ADC not be available for a certain rostered shift. The reporter provided an example where there were vacant shifts on [dates] between 0645-1645, and rather than fill these shifts with overtime, the hours of ATS coverage were reduced; however, the volume of GA traffic does not decrease during the NOTAM’d reduced hours.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Airservices response:

The staffing levels and related individual shift staffing hours are primarily predicated on expected aircraft movements, taking into account the overarching complexity of the operation. The review of these shift staffing hours was in all cases determined in direct correlation with the forecast traffic levels and related operational complexity. All amendments were fully consulted with stakeholders and customers including the airlines, the local operators and the Gold Coast Airport.  Critically any revised hours of service for Gold Coast Tower were communicated in a full and transparent fashion to CASA after which their approval was received.

The staffing levels for each location are based upon the hours of service required and the number of operational staff required during those hours. Airservices can confirm that there are sufficient staff at Gold Coast to meet operational service requirements. It is however accepted that as a direct result of some staff failing to complete training, there has been a subsequent reduction in capability in this location.

To mitigate this current constraint, and taking into account reduced traffic levels, staff have not been rostered into a distinct and stand-alone supervisory role, and instead one operational controller has held Operational Command Authority (OCA) for the Tower. This approach to Tower supervision is consistent with Airservices’ documented and approved processes and commensurate with the reduction in complexity currently presenting at the Gold Coast Tower.

Airservices is investing as a priority significant time and resources to enhance training delivery outcomes. This includes Airservices finalising the development of a simulator-based aerodrome control training program to augment the on-the-job training component at Gold Coast. This program is anticipated to be completed in time for delivery in early 2021.

To further mitigate the current challenges faced, additional ATC staff are transferring to Gold Coast in January 2021 to further bolster capability, and ensure an appropriate level of staffing readiness in anticipation of an upturn in traffic is achieved. The current Gold Coast Tower resource and training plan in fact indicates that there will be a level of staffing in excess of the level required by June 2021.

On occasions where staff become unavailable for a rostered shift, and a replacement staff member is not able to be secured, additional workload and fatigue control measures, such as limiting circuit traffic, have been implemented to complement additional existing tactical traffic management procedures. Where deemed appropriate, Airservices enacts its published and approved contingency plan resulting in an amendment to the service level and hours at the Gold Coast.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA conducts regular surveillance of Gold Coast Tower (GCT) which includes June 2020 and a People Capability audit during October and November 2020.

CASA has identified issues related to the number of endorsement holders on rosters for GCT. This was acknowledged by Airservices Australia (AA) in their response. CASA People Capability surveillance report reviewed resource capability matters at GCT and notes that AA has developed a program (including the use of simulators for training) to improve resource availability.  

CASA continues to engage AA to ensure that GCT rostering complies with the AA National ATS Administration Manual (NAAM) clause 1.7.3.6.1. Specifically, a controller must not be responsible for supervising when assigned OCA.

CASA intends to engage AA through the ANS People Capability surveillance report to ensure that GCT resourcing is appropriate and compliant.

Last update 15 April 2021