Draft Convention for the Profession of Air Traffic Controllers

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Draft Convention for the Profession of Air Traffic Controllers

18TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Brussels, Belgium, 23-27 April 1979

WP No. 49

Draft Convention for the Profession of Air Traffic Controllers


During the last 17th Annual Conference in Copenhagen the Directors resolved that in view of concerned preparations regarding the forthcoming ILO Meeting of Experts on Problems concerning Air Traffic Controllers, Standing Committee IV was commissioned to elaborate a draft convention for the profession of air traffic controllers.

Thus, the here tabled working-paper contains a draft of an international convention, destined to be recommended to the International Labour Office for further action.

We would like to emphasise that with one exception, the draft convention encompasses all so far adopted IFATCA-policy and does not depict any new aspect to the Directors.

The Directors’ attention, however, is particularly drawn to the last subparagraph of the section of Remuneration. Standing Committee IV after having discussed this aspect, felt that after all, the here used definition could clearly given such link orientation, to be acceptable to all our Member Associations.

It is for you gentlemen, to decide upon our suggestion which might then introduce a first concrete and promising international effort facing our demands which we had adopted since 1970, when a professional policy within IFATCA gradually was constituted.

Editor’s Note: The complete report of the ILO Meeting of Experts on Problems Concerning Air Traffic Controller is available here.


The following draft is tabled for discussion and decision by the Directors.


It is recommended to Conference to accept the working paper, as amended, and to adopt the enclosed Draft Convention for Air Traffic Controllers to form IFATCA policy for the purpose of submission to the ILO on the occasion of the forthcoming ILO Meeting of Experts concerning Air Traffic Controllers and moreover to be promulgated at any similar event at it is further recommended that this policy paper or resume thereof should be distributed widely to press, aviation world and national administrations as soon as possible.


“Air traffic services, almost unknown 40 years ago, have become an indispensable element of today’s’ civil aviation operations, contributing materially to air traffic safety and efficiency throughout the world.” (ILO-ICA/1972/1)

…air traffic control, an occupation almost unknown 40 years ago, is now an indispensable feature of air transport and plays an essential role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of civil aviation throughout the world.” (ILO/Geneva-Social and Labour Problems in Civil Aviation, 1974)


These statements ensued from two enquiries of the ILO in 1969 and 1972 which were published in 1972 and 1974, they are still valid. Since then the air traffic control services have developed rapidly and seem likely to continue to do so throughout the next decade.

Recognising the situation, The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) decided to investigate once again conditions of employment and service of air traffic controllers and to update the results yearly.

Successively, when the material had been assessed, a comprehensive IFATCA-analysis, in 1977 was brought to the attention of the ILO-Tripartite Technical Meeting for Civil Aviation, under the title: The Controllers’ Concern.

So far the International Labour Office had convened two of the aforementioned meetings in 1975 and 1977, where the problem of the Air Traffic Controllers’ Profession had been deliberated on a tripartite basis between representatives of governments, employers and employees.

As a matter of consequence participants had recognised the seriousness of the Air Traffic Controllers’ concern, and thus recommended an ILO-meeting of Experts on Problems concerning Air Traffic Controllers, to be convened in May 1979.


Through a yearly questionnaire since 1973, IFATCA recognised that working conditions, as well as conditions of employment in the air traffic control services through all parts of the world had to be regarded as inadequate, if they were not even disorganised.

The content of the Air Traffic Controllers’ profession defines to be international, that is to say air traffic controllers in all parts of the world practise their profession according to international procedures, regulations and practices based on respective ICAO- recommendations.

In order to ensure coinciding standards regarding the professional environment to match with those of employment conditions it becomes imperative to render the respective attention.

Well-known scientific researches in the area of the multi discipline of ergonomics clearly substantiate a direct interrelation between the aforementioned components.

In this context is therefore important to know that most of the national professional organisations during the past 15 years had made numerous efforts and other attempts vis- à-vis their concerned aviation administrations and/or governments, in order to aspire to satisfying solutions.

Regrettably the world federation of the air traffic controllers (IFATCA), in almost all of the cases recognised that a solution could not be obtained yet, but on the contrary existing insufficiencies contribute to aggravate the situation.

Those well-known incidents which in numerous countries so far have impeded the operation of international air transport at particular intervals, drastically substantiate inadequate conditions in the professional area of the air traffic controller. There areindications today that all the efforts, nationally isolated, might not lead to acceptable solutions.

Since all such aforementioned attempts ended to deadlock so far, IFATCA appeals to institute a solution on international level, in order to guarantee a continuous development of international air transport for the future.

Facing the serious situation, IFATCA at Copenhagen had discussed the purpose of any international convention and/or recommendation, and today resolve the following aspects to be incorporated in such international standards:

  • Recruitment and training;
  • Work environment;
  • Conditions of service;
  • Remuneration;
  • Early retirement and pension;
  • Legal matters;
  • Medical;
  • Methods of determining conditions of operation and service.

Whereas in the interest of air safety, vis-à-vis the reduction of fatigue, morale, and well being of the Air Traffic Controller, the following standards are ones;

Therefore these brought into a Convention for the Profession of Air Traffic Controllers:

1. Selection and Training of Air Traffic Controllers

1.1  Considering the overwhelming responsibilities, the stressful nature and the uniqueness of the Air Traffic Control Profession, only the most suitable candidates should be selected and trained for the air traffic control career.

1.2  Whereas to safeguard this goal and subsequently to achieve and maintain the highest possible standards in air traffic controllers and their profession; Therefore the following aspects are of specific importance and hence shall be regulated:

  • selection
  • education
  • training to licensing standards
  • training after licensing

1.3  Selection

1.3.1  Whereas a number of requirements and limitations have been identified as applicable during the selection process;


1.3.2  applicants without previous aviation experience should be between the age of 18 and 25 years,

1.3.3  applicants should possess qualifications required to enter a recognised post-secondary institution in the candidate’s country,

1.3.4  applicants must pass the selection standards. They should also pass psychological and aptitude tests for which ICAO should co-ordinate certain elements with or visual or oral criteria. Such testing should be provided for when it is available and has been validated.

1.3.5  applicants must be able to satisfy ICAO medical requirements,

1.3.6  the final selection should be made by trained ATC personnel together with professional assessors.

1.4 Education

1.4.1  Whereas the further development of aviation in general implies the challenge towards most suitable and future-orientated air traffic control systems, and consequently involves the necessary after highly skilled professional specialists to specify and describe those systems;


1.4.2  successful applicants should be required to graduate from a post-secondary educational institution,

1.4.3  post-secondary education should be subsidised by the employer,

1.4.4  successful applicants should be encouraged to take subjects related to aviation and transportation systems,

1.4.5  all candidates shall be employed in the ATC system between semesters.

1.5 Training to Licensing Standards

1.5.1  Whereas to achieve the highest possible standard in worldwide air traffic control services, air traffic controllers should be provided with suitable training provisions in view of specified programmes and methods;

Therefore the following should be provided for within three periods:

1.5.2  a programme of formal classroom instruction which will provide students with sufficient knowledge of the duties of an air traffic controller as well as pertinent information concerning related aviation fields,

1.5.3  a programme of familiarisation flights: assignment, for short periods of time, to commercial dispatch offices, aircraft maintenance shops, and aviation flying schools,

1.5.4  a programme of participation in the work of an operational ATC unit,

1.5.5  a programme of flight training including training exercises in multi-engine aircraft simulators,

1.5.6 an overall programme to provide the employer the opportunity to assess the suitability and capability of the students for air traffic control duties;

Second Period

1.5.7  a programme of formal classroom instruction which should include all relevant material and simulation exercises required for aerodrome traffic licensing standards and sufficient information concerning the approach and area control functions,

1.5.8  a programme of participation in the work of an high density tower with practical experience under supervision,

1.5.9  a continuation of the programme in connection with 1.5.4, 1.5.5 and 1.5.6;

Third Period

1.5.10  a programme of classroom instruction which should include all relevant material and traffic simulation exercises required pertinent for ATC procedures and equipment for an approach and area control rating as well as providing administrative background for reporting procedures, management forms, etc. Also a review of all material covered in the previous two periods,

1.5.11  a practical check-out in approach or area control to licensing standards, when the controller can now be used in a control position where required,

1.5.12  students completing the third period programme would be expected to have graduated from post-secondary institution.

1.6 Training after licensing

1.6.1 Refresher Training

Whereas to maintain world-wide air traffic control services of the highest standards;  Therefore controllers should participate in a refresher course (training and simulation designed to ensure a maintenance of knowledge and abilities) every year while actively engaged in control duties. A list of objectives of a basic refresher course should be developed by the civil aviation authority and/or administration concerned;  Therefore controllers should participate in programmed refresher courses, adequate courses of instruction to be provided prior to the introduction into the ATC system of new or modified equipment and changes to standards or procedures which may require additional skills or changes in operating techniques.

1.6.2 Familiarisation Flights

Licensed and trainee controllers should participate in familiarisation flights each year.
(note: policy was amended by recommendation 95.C.8, working paper C.140)

1.6.3 Supervisory and Management Courses

Whereas controllers are charged with responsibility for indoctrination or on-the-job training of ATS personnel; Therefore they should be provided with adequate courses of instruction in order to discharge these additional responsibilities, Therefore, prior to appointment to a supervisory or management position controllers should be provided with suitable supervisory and management courses which meet the requirements of the new position, Therefore career development courses should be provided on a programmed basis to prepare controllers for non-operational air traffic control management positions, Controllers should also be provided the opportunity to take courses which will prepare them for employment in other areas of the government service and, if requested by the controllers, for employment outside the government service.

1.6.4  Invalidation of Local Ratings

A controller’s local rating shall become invalid after a maximum break in service of six (6) months, and revalidation is necessary before resuming duty.

1.6.5  Assessments

If assessments are conducted controllers must have the opportunity of sighting these assessments and discussing them with the assessing officer. Additionally a controller must have the opportunity of registering on the assessment form, his comments regarding the assessment and the manner in which it was carried out.

2 Working Environment

2.1  Whereas in order to achieve a satisfactory standard for the ATC working environment, including the design and layout of ATC systems, ATC operation rooms as well as ATC working positions;

2.2  Therefore concerned administrations should provide participation of active air traffic controllers at all stages of a respective project,

2.3  Therefore existing human factors knowledge should be incorporated in design for new operational rooms and new ATC working positions and in modernisation of existing facilities.

3 Conditions of Service

3.1 Whereas in view of the particularly high degree of responsibility of the air traffic controller which gives rise to a considerable amount of stress, and of the legal liability of the individual exercising this profession which engenders an additional burden of continuous background stress, the conditions of service are of vital importance in that they can either aggravate or ameliorate these situations;

3.2  Whereas because of the high initial selection standards, and the subsequent removal of those who fail to maintain the standard, the air traffic controller population appears to be healthy and resilient consequently, the physical, psychological and social consequences of exercising the profession may not manifest themselves to the extend that one might at first expect;

3.3  Whereas medical studies throughout the world have reported upon the susceptibility of the air traffic controller to particular medical conditions and illnesses. Of particular concern are the statistics showing use of drugs and tranquillisers, the frequency of nervous breakdown, the need for mental care and the decreased social adaptions, very often resulting in matrimonial difficulties and divorce thereby further increasing the pressure on the individual;

3.4  Whereas it is of vital importance that the conditions of service are such that they do not aggravate the air traffic controllers situation, but rather compensate for it;

3.5  Therefore an optimal roster should be promulgated based on the maximum allowed number of working hours per week and per shift, a minimum number of break periods of an agreed minimum length, both during a shift and between two shifts and on an optimal night/day switch number per week or per month as appropriate. This roster requires a definition of personnel strength bases on the number of sectors and traffic density. It must allow for attribution of a minimum number of days paid leave, sick leave, extraordinary leave, and unpaid leave. It must be such that a minimum number of weekends per month and of public holidays per year can be taken as they occur and not later. Conditions for overtime and night work (e.g. sleeping facilities) must be defined and the regulations governing the various kinds of leave be clearly stated.

3.6  Whereas conditions of service are different all over the world and there are no internationally agreed and accepted standards existing for air traffic controllers;

3.7  Therefore the following conditions should be established:

3.7.1 Work Load and Rest Periods the average time of service should not exceed 32 hours per week, each shift should not exceed 7 1/2 hours in length,

(Note: this policy was amended by policy 95.C.2 working paper C.125) the maximum continuous effective working time for an air traffic controller should be two hours and this time should be reduced.

(Note: this policy was amended by policy 95.C.2 working paper C.125) the effective working time during the night should not exceed five hours;

(Note: this policy was amended by policy 95.C.2 working paper C.125) after a period of two hours on duty (less for radar controllers), a 30 minutes break at least away from the working environment should be given to air traffic controllers;

(Note: this policy was deleted (combined) by policy 95.C.2 working paper C.125) the minimum interval between two consecutive spells of duty should be not less than 12 hours.

(Note: this policy was deleted by policy 95.C.2 working paper C.125)

3.7.2 Work Rotas work rotas should be based on at least two consecutive free days during each 7-day period; work rotas should be agreed with and approved by the air traffic controllers involved.

3.7.3 Vacation Time annual leave for an air traffic controller should be not less than 30 working days (30 days corresponds to 6 weeks), excluding official public holidays, with at least three consecutive weeks vacation.

3.8 Management-Air Traffic Controller Relations

3.8.1 ATC management staff should have a thorough basic knowledge of air traffic control and be holders, or have held, an air traffic controller’s licence and should keep abreast of air traffic control problems as well as keeping their knowledge continually updated.

4 Remuneration

4.1  The prime objects of air traffic controllers are to promote a safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic.

4.2  Whereas the profession of air traffic control requires continuous high standards in the field of professional knowledge, performance and physical/psychological conditions, all being checked regularly for safety reasons;

4.3  Whereas the profession of an air traffic controller has a relative short period of activity or productivity;

4.4  Whereas the air traffic controller is almost non-transferable to another position in or outside the civil service, due to specialised nature of his profession;

4.5  Whereas the profession of air traffic control is as internationally standardised as possible, according to directives given by ICAO;

4.6  Therefore it is justified a remuneration for the profession of air traffic controller commensurate with the requirements and responsibilities of the profession, not limited by the practices of any other organisation;

4.7  Therefore is justified equal remuneration for equal work with relation to duties and responsibilities,

4.8 Therefore remuneration for air traffic controllers should be relative to those of the most senior captains of the international airline of the concerned country. In cases where a particular country does not operate an international airline of its own, comparison should be made to such international airline, serving the respective country.

(This policy was revised in 1994 by WP 139)

5 Early Retirement and Pension

5.1  Whereas during his career, an air traffic controller will have fulfilled a key role in ensuring the safety of air traffic, and will have executed a command function with high responsibilities, within a restricted team;

5.2  Whereas in order to safeguard the air traffic control system, the air traffic controller is required to meet high standards of physical fitness, psychological or mental fitness and professional skill;

5.3  Whereas it is obvious that with growing age the chance that these requirements can not be met increase. Thus the ageing process itself, in affecting the individual controller’s ability to measure up to the required standard, has a direct bearing on his career length;

5.4  Whereas some physical, psychological and technical factors which can cause a deterioration in an air traffic controller’s performance of his work and which are aggravated by age;

5.5  Therefore regulations should be established for earlier retirement as follows:

5.5.1  an air traffic controller should cease active control work at the age of 50,

5.5.2  an air traffic controller should have the right to retire after 20 years active control service.

5.5.3  for disability due to other than age, to institute an insurance against the loss of license as an addition to the present regulations of disability retirement. The premium should be paid by the employer.

5.6 Whereas in case of early retirement (“early” compared with the generally accepted retirement age) it is reasonable to demand that the regulations be formulated in such a way that the controller is not penalised for the limitation on his career;

5.6.1 Therefore respective regulations should provide a retirement scheme for the air traffic controller to be accompanied by an adequate pension scheme.

6 Legal Liability of the Controller

6.1 Whereas the air traffic controller whilst carrying out his duty is constantly confronted with ultra-high demands related to legal liabilities;

6.2 Therefore it becomes imperative to provide adequate legislative protection for the air traffic controller in order to reduce such strains engendering from improper legal status.

7 Medical Provisions

7.1  Whereas Annex I of ICAO (Personnel Licensing) lays down the air traffic controllers medical examinations to enter the profession and the periodic ones thereafter which, supplementary causes stress;

7.2  Therefore adequate provision should provide for medical recognition of the profession of air traffic controllers, like:

7.2.1  the medical requirements for ATC services should be drawn up by the competent authorities and should be based on the standards and recommendations of ICAO Annex I,

7.2.2  local medical centres should be established for the examination of ATC personnel. A national medical service should be set up to determine health criteria for air traffic controllers for the information of medical centres,

7.2.3  air traffic controllers should have the option of being examined by the specialist of their choice in the event of any medical problem of a permanent nature coming to light during a previous examination,

7.2.4  the costs of such examinations should be borne by the ATC authorities,

7.2.5  to prevent a decline in conditions of work, any factors likely to contribute towards such a decline should be examined regularly and frequently by the appropriate medical authority.,

7.2.6  advice should be sought from competent medical authorities about any building or re-equipment programme. Such advice should be acted upon and be applied also to existing ACC, APP and TWR units,

7.2.7  competent medical authorities should be consulted, as well as the air traffic controllers themselves, to obtain their views on job organisation.

7.2.8  ATC medical licensing requirements shall be covered by adequate measures e.g. recreation cures, at the employers expense, designed to prevent loss of licence. This protection shall include the availability of appropriate medical services and training facilities to assist the person concerned in maintaining the required health standards.

8 Methods of determining Conditions of Operation and Service

8.1 Nowadays air traffic control – an occupation almost unknown 40 years ago – is an indispensable feature of air transport appointed to play the essential and decisive role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of aviation throughout the world.

8.2  Whereas in respect of the skills and qualifications required, air traffic controllers have to fulfil various conditions regarding age, general knowledge, experience and physical skills;

8.3  Whereas apart from the requirement to be licensed to conduct aerodrome, approach or area-control, they also are obliged to obtain the qualifications required to operate the radar equipment which is the determining means of advanced ATC systems;

8.4  Whereas in view of the fact that the work is highly exacting because of extremely heavy responsibilities involved – a wrong interpretation of an item of data can lead to serious consequences e.g. aircraft incidents or even accidents – air traffic controllers therefore operate in an environment which is quite unique and cannot be compared directly to other civil service occupations;

8.5  Whereas in most cases however, air traffic controllers have been linked with the pay and conditions of the civil service. However, the regulations governing civil service employment were framed for administrative employees and cannot meet the unique requirements of the controller;

8.6  Whereas the human element within the ATC system will remain the decisive factor in guaranteeing the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic;

8.7  Therefore ILO-Contracting States are urged to ensure such national regulations and/or legislation to provide;

8.7.1  a specifically defined personnel statute for air traffic controllers, taking into account the outstanding responsibilities, physio/psychological demands and strains involved, to match with conformable regulations, and

8.7.2  a participation of active air traffic controllers through their professional associations when determining conditions of operation and/or employment.

Last Update: February 21, 2021  

November 23, 2019   962   Jean-Francois Lepage    1979    

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