The introduction of the Air Traffic Control Professional Standards Programme is designed to both raise the level of professionalism among controllers and increase safety. It also brings the ATC role in line with other professional bodies, programme coordinator Chris Miller says.
“The programme gives participants the tools to actively and effectively change unprofessional behaviour,” Miller adds.
“Unprofessional behaviour is a distraction. It affects safety, and it affects our profession’s reputation.
“Professions such as doctors, lawyers, journalists and real estate agents all have a code of ethics, and we didn’t until now. The Professional Standards Programme helps us raise the bar on our professional behaviour and go beyond the criteria set out by our regulator and employer.”
Miller presented on the benefits of having a programme, and the success it draws upon from overseas experience, at the October 2017 International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) Asia Pacific Regional Meeting in Wellington.
“The event gave us the opportunity to present the Programme and take feedback from working controllers; we have already received a good number of inquiries about issues from locations up and down the country,” Miller says.
The Programme draws upon input and guidance from the United States’ National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which established their professional standards programmes in the 1990s and 2010 respectively.
NZALPA’s pilot Professional Standards manual also provided a valuable starting point.
“We acknowledged that many of the issues being faced by pilots were different to our issues, and so our own ATC programme was needed,” Miller says.
NATCA’s Garth Koleszar attended New Zealand-based training for the volunteers’ training sessions.
Each controller is being sent a copy of the ATC Professional Standards brochure, and it is available on the NZALPA website.
Primarily the Programme looks at the description of a controller’s professional standards – safety of flight, obligation to regulator and employer, duty of care, and professional and personal conduct – the second outlines the conflict resolution process.
“The main barrier is still the idea that, if someone uses the conflict-resolution service, they are 'telling on' a colleague,” Miller says.
“In a perfect world there would be no conflicts in the workplace, or if they did arise they could be dealt with directly face to face. This is not always possible, and this is where the Professional Standards Programme comes in. It offers a discreet, confidential service that enables issues to be resolved with the help of a trained peer.
“The aim of the programme is to resolve conflicts that arise in the workplace, not to provide a way for controllers to get a colleague into trouble.
“Conflicts might be caused by unprofessional behaviour, or conflicts may lead to unprofessional behaviour. We don’t care how the issues arise, we just want to get them resolved.”
The conflict-resolution service provided by NZALPA volunteers relies on all parties involved taking part. The person being referred to the Programme will be advised of this and can elect not to take part. Case types include teamwork personality conflicts, distracting personal habits, non-adherence to standard operating procedures and sexual harassment (within guidelines).
ATC Professional Standards is not for regulator enforcement or violation cases, incidents, substance abuse problems, medical-related or legal issues. NZALPA’s Medical and Welfare Team has other programmes in place to deal with health and wellbeing queries, to which volunteers can refer people.
“When dealing with issues, the Professional Standards Programme is optional, confidential, neutral and non-disciplinary – volunteers do not take sides and the ultimate goal is to achieve a change in behaviour that improves the professional service we provide as controllers and a better work environment for all,” Miller says.
The ATC Professional Standards Programme is looking for new volunteers, with a training session being planned for 2018. If you are interested in becoming a Professional Standards Volunteer, then contact Chris Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the NZALPA office on 09 255 1500.