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Watchdog to consider rise in air traffic control fees

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“We’re disappointed to see the original increase has been proposed in full across a far shorter time period. We’d like to see recruitment investment translate into performance,” a spokesperson from the airline body said.

Airservices was responsible for almost 20 per cent of delays at the country’s four biggest airports this financial year and the body has faced ongoing staffing issues for a couple of years.

Airservices’ chief executive, Jason Harfield, has admitted air navigation services have struggled over the past two years due to staffing issues and absenteeism, which has resulted in a rise of attributable delays and cancellations, to the chargrin of domestic airlines. 

“In navigating these challenges, regrettably, Airservices has not consistently delivered the service standard we expect of ourselves and relied upon by our customers and stakeholders,” Harfield wrote to customers in August.

The body is training 50 would-be controllers, with another 80 due to complete training next year following a recruitment drive to tackle staffing issues.

Training an air traffic controller is no easy feat. Not only is there a global shortage, but entry-level training takes between two and three years. About 130 air traffic controllers retired early during the COVID-19 pandemic and many have not returned. To make matters more complicated, less than 3 per cent of applicants pass the entry test.

Qantas and Virgin Australia said they were reviewing the proposal and would engage with the ACCC process on the issues paper.

The watchdog is expected to issue a draft determination on the proposal early next year. Minister for Transport Catherine King will also need to approve the rises ahead of their implementation.

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