Determining And Result Of Inadequate Staffing

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Determining And Result Of Inadequate Staffing

41TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Cancun, Mexico, 15-19 April 2002

WP No. 167

Determining And Result Of Inadequate Staffing


At the 40th Annual Conference held in Geneva Switzerland, SC4 was tasked to prepare a working paper for Determining and Result of Inadequate Staffing.

In order to determine Inadequate Staffing, It must be established what adequate staffing levels are, anything which does not meet the minimum staffing levels must therefore be considered as inadequate staffing.

A working paper prepared for the 40th Annual Conference held in Geneva, 2001 WP No.169, entitled the Legal Liability Aspects of Inadequate Staffing has already covered many aspects of this working paper.

This working paper is proposed to be information material only, as IFATCA Professional Working Paper No. 117/1993 entitled Review Of ILO Conclusion, regarding Manpower and Career Planning and Hours of Work, has previously covered this subject.


To determine adequate staffing

To determine if an ATS Unit or facility is adequately staffed in the short term, the ATS provider or appropriate authority must take into account the amount of staff required to manage an ATS unit adequately. This must take in to account how many working positions are needed over a period of a day, week, and month. The staffing formula for devising work rosters should closely follow the recommended hours of work as stipulated in the IFATCA Manual page 4131, Para 3.1.3 which states:

“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 shifts and on an optimal night/day switch number per week or per month as appropriate. This roster requires definition of personnel strength based on the number of sectors and traffic density. It must allow for attribution of a minimum 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. rest facilities) must be defined and the regulations governing the various kinds of leave be clearly stated”.


The IFATCA Manual page 4131 to 4134 also list the recommended working hours, rest periods, vacation scheme, recency and competency and extra duties.

IFATCA Policy on page 4413, Para 1.2.1, regarding the legal liability of the Controller states:

“Each member association should take necessary steps to determine with the relevant authority the appropriate staff level required to ensure the safety and efficiency of Air Traffic Control Systems.”


The ATS provider must plan carefully staffing levels commensurate with recognized traffic patterns which may vary during a day/week, seasonal fluctuations, and disruptions caused by weather, failure of ATS facilities or services.

The ATS provider must also take into account the ATCO ratings required to competently operate the ATS unit whilst also maintaining ATCO currency and competency when formulating work rosters.

The long term objectives in determining adequate staffing has to take into account natural attrition through retirement, resignations, failure to get medical certification due to medical incapacitation, maternity leave, annual leave, trade union activities, retraining due to introduction of new equipment, facilities, procedures or refresher courses.

Results of Inadequate Staffing

The results of inadequate staffing in the short term can be described at best to be undesirable and at worse dangerous. IFATCA policy states on page 4413, Para 1.2.2, regarding legal liabilities of the controller:

“In the event of an incident or accident that can be shown to have been caused wholly or in part due to inadequate staffing, the controller concerned shall not be held liable.”


ATS providers may find, due to inadequate staffing the inability to cover all control positions, resulting in the combining of positions/frequencies to make up for the staff shortfall.

Traffic congestion or disruptions may occur as a result of flow control measures taken to alleviate staffing problems.

Certain ATS facilities or services may be withdrawn or suspended as a result of inadequate staffing or inappropriately qualified staff being available.

Personnel working in facilities which are inadequately staff may find that they may be handling more traffic than can be safely maintained and the working periods longer than recommended, with shorter breaks in between. This can lead to higher stress levels and fatigue to the ATCO resulting in the need for more rest periods, sometimes taken in the form of sick leave, exasperating the problem.

The long-term result of inadequate staffing may lead to annual leave being denied or the amount of leave granted being reduced. Overtime or longer working hours being the accepted norm at certain facilities.

An ATCO may be required to hold multiple ratings to cover areas where there may be staff shortages. This may have safety implications, as the ATCO may not be able to keep current on all the ratings held.

Certain ATS providers may create new ratings to overcome rating or staffing problems by designating them as night time rating or creating single controller operations over a larger area in the quieter periods of the day.

Airlines or Airspace users may avoid areas reputed for disruptions or delays, where certain ATS facilities or services are not being provided as a result of inadequate staffing, putting pressure on neighbouring ATS units.

The salient points above are not exhaustive and many other points can be stated in addition, they are only an example of what does occur regularly at many ATS units where they may be inadequately staffed.


Inadequate staffing may be the result of poor staff management and planning, recruitment problems and financial constraints placed on States or ATS provider.

Inadequate staffing is a serious safety issue and should have no political or financial constraints.

Inadequate staffing should be recognized at an early stage and actions must be taken in a timely manner to alleviate this problem by the appropriate authority.


This paper is accepted as Information Material.


IFATCA 32nd Annual Conference WP No. 117/1993 entitled Review of ILO Conclusion.

IFATCA 40th Annual Conference WP No.169/2001 entitled Legal Liability aspect of Inadequate Staffing.

The IFATCA Manual.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 14, 2020   730   Jean-Francois Lepage    2002    

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