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New Zealand Air Traffic Controllers Will Not Replace Fijian Colleagues – Union

26 March 2019

New Zealand’s Air Traffic Controllers will resist any call to replace their colleagues in Fiji while the Fijians undertake action in response to unsuccessfully requesting to re-enter negotiations about their employment terms and conditions with their employer, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) announced today.

Air Traffic Controllers at both of Fiji's international airports are engaged in a dispute with their employer over unfair pay and working conditions.  Contingency procedures have been put in place in the airspace and least one commercial operator has suspended flights into Fiji. 

NZALPA’s Air Traffic Control Director, Kelvin Vercoe, said New Zealand controllers were extremely disappointed to see the on-going dispute, particularly since it would be taking a significant toll on the Fijian Air Traffic Controllers as it was deemed an offence to take industrial action under Fiji employment law. 

“Fiji is one of the most popular holiday destinations for New Zealanders and the Pacific nation relies heavily on air transport to service its growing tourism sector – this will affect the tourism industry in Fiji and damage the reputation of the Fijian airspace system.

“Airports Fiji Limited appears to be engaged in a prolonged dispute with its Air Traffic Controllers, which is having an impact on safety and reliability of the Air Traffic Control services provided in Fiji airspace.”

NZALPA also understands the Fijian aviation regulator, CAAF, Fiji Airways Limited and Fiji Link have announced there has been no disruptions to schedules, and that operations continue to be safe at both Nadi and Nausori Airports.  There appears to be a deliberate obfuscation that operations are normal, “this is not in line with information we are receiving from our colleagues in Fiji.”

NZALPA supports the Fiji Public Service Association’s (FPSA) call for an inquiry into the current situation, particularly as Airports Fiji Limited would seem to prefer to operate using what they refer to as ‘contingency procedures’ rather than put meaningful efforts into the resolution of this dispute through negotiations with the Air Traffic Controllers.

‘It would certainly be alarming if Airports Fiji Limited thinks it is ok to require pilots separate themselves in busy airspace, without any Air Traffic Control, rather than engage in further dialogue with our qualified and professional Fijian Air Traffic Control colleagues – we would prefer both parties to negotiate an acceptable compromise.”

The ‘contingency procedures’ referred to are actually the activation of the system known as a Traffic Information and Broadcast Advisory (TIBA), which is effectively pilot self-separation of aircraft, normally only used in uncontrolled airspace or during large scale emergencies or natural disasters.  For example TIBA was implemented in New Zealand for a short period immediately after the Christchurch earthquakes, following the evacuation of the Christchurch Air Traffic Control facilities.

“TIBA is an inferior and inadequate replacement when human air traffic controllers are available to issue clearances and instructions, and also provide the necessary monitoring and information for aircraft within Fiji airspace, particularly during critical takeoffs and landings at busy airports. Air Traffic Controllers are also able to provide assistance to aircraft in emergency situations,” Kelvin Vercoe said.  

“This is an unsafe situation for both workers and the travelling public.  Airports Fiji Limited must take immediate action to listen and work with their controllers to remedy this situation.”

Media contact:  Lisa-Marie Richan 027 278 0441 or lisa-marie@conv.co.nz

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