NZALPA’s incoming Air Traffic Control Director Kelvin Vercoe wants to improve the relationship between Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) and Airways, and says achieving that task will be no small feat and “a bit like eating an elephant one bite at a time.”
Before settling into that, he is focused on a successful outcome for ongoing collective agreement (CA) negotiations (ongoing at the time of this article being written).
Then, with the ATC Council, they’ll focus on the wider culture issues. “The relationship our ATC members have with Airways currently is broken, having been eroded by questionable management styles and a lack of inclusive communication. It is going to need a lot of open and transparent discussions to improve it,” he says.
“We have started along a track to improving it with Airways management. It’s very early days, but I am happy we are having those discussions to get us to a better place.”
Kelvin says that there can be no hope of repairing any relationship unless both sides demonstrate a commitment to wanting improvement. “I’m cautiously optimistic we can make it happen. It’s taken years to get where we are, and it will take years to return to some sort of acceptable relationship again, but it’s time to start.”
Kelvin is no newcomer to ATC or to NZALPA. He’s been an ATC for 12 years and is based in Nelson, “one of the best places to live and work in New Zealand” and just a stone’s throw from his hometown of Blenheim.
He’s been in various roles on the ATC Council for almost as long as he has been an ATC. For the last few years, he has been ATC Council Technical Officer. He’s also been on the CA negotiations team for the previous three sets of negotiations.
NZALPA’s outgoing ATC Director, Jim Dunn, encouraged Kelvin to put himself forward for the Director role. “So, in my mind if someone like Jim suggests it, with his many years of being ATC Director and other representative roles, then it deserves a serious thought,” says Kelvin.
“I was initially apprehensive whether I could perform the role being on the Nelson roster, but was convinced by Jim that it would not require much more time than I had been spending on union work recently. Ask me in a year if he was right!” says Kelvin.
“In my life outside ATC, I have a wonderful wife and two children who seem to have tolerated my regular absences for union work to date, and I don’t take that for granted. Family first, always.”
Kelvin enjoys ATC work and says the mental challenge of being an ATC is a big drawcard. “Then there are my colleagues in the tower. They’re great and have been very supportive of me doing union work over the years, with me often out of Nelson and off the roster. I truly appreciate that, so thanks to them as well. Of course, given this is a NZALPA article I should say I get to talk to lots of interesting people on the other end of the mic too.”
Kelvin believes the aviation sector embraces technological change faster than other employment sectors, and ATCs and pilots have come to accept change as a regular part of their job. “That said, my thoughts are that if there is a real need for or benefit from a change, for example an increase in safety or reduction in risk, then there is a good reason to implement it. Change for change sake is not beneficial to anyone. Just because it’s shiny or new doesn’t necessarily make it better,” he says.
Kelvin started late and took an unusual path to an ATC career. He travelled and worked around the world, in a shearing gang in the US, driving tour buses in Europe and working in IT in Ireland, before returning to New Zealand. He is also a trained massage therapist who toured with the Irish music and dance show Riverdance for two years as one of their therapists.
“We are looking forward to having Kelvin on the team as ATC Director. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to advocate for ATCs,” said NZALPA President Tim Robinson.
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