Spain has too few air traffic controllers to restore air traffic

by Lorraine Williamson
air traffic controllers

There are not enough air traffic controllers for a full recovery of air traffic in Spain after the corona pandemic. Furthermore, it is an industry with an average age of 55. And every year, more workers retire than new people enter the profession.

This is the main conclusion of the 34th edition of the National Congress of the Union of Air Traffic Controllers in Spain (USCA). The congress in Bilbao will be held for the 34th time and will conclude this Thursday. The shortage of air traffic controllers has been an insidious problem for years that is not being solved. Consequently, this is a considerable challenge for Spain as the third largest aviation market in Europe. 

Too late to meet the requested capacity of air traffic in Spain 

There are currently around 2,000 air traffic controllers working in Spain. According to an agreement signed with Enaire in 2018, Spain should have 2,400 air traffic controllers by 2025 to meet the growth and the associated capacity. However, according to the union, it is now too late to comply with this. 

The main cause of this problem is that air traffic controller training has been privatised in Spain. As a result, people have to pay €60,000 themselves to participate in the training and the associated exams. Spain is the only country in Europe where this is regulated in this way. 

ASSSA - health insurance in Spain

Shortage of personnel in this sector seems to be the order of the day in almost every European country. However, according to the union, this regulation in Spain is the main reason that such shortages have been and continue to exist. 

Shortage of air traffic controllers stands in the way of a smooth recovery of air traffic in Spain 

Since the pandemic, air traffic has been significantly affected and shortages have been less visible as demand for air travel decreased significantly. Air traffic in Spain suffered greatly from the corona crisis of all European countries. Now Spain is the country where air traffic is recovering the fastest. The flip side of this, however, is that staff shortages within the sector are becoming increasingly noticeable. 

New agreement does not solve the biggest problem in the aviation sector 

To change this, a pre-agreement has been reached between the USCA union and Enaire, which should be officially approved on December 13. In this provisional agreement, progress has been made in the field of availability of air traffic controllers and shifts. Until now, air traffic controllers have often been confronted with mandatory duties on days off. The new agreement includes agreements on mandatory rest times and days and hours of service. 

Although this is an improvement for the existing air traffic controllers, a solution has still not been found for attracting a new batch. The average age of these workers in Spain is 55 and in Madrid even 59 years. Many of these people will retire within a few years and then the question is who will take over when there are not enough new people joining. 

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