IFATCA holds it's 54th annual conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.

- Sofia, Bulgaria.

The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations, (IFATCA) represents over 50,000 Air Traffic Controllers in 128 countries.

The 54th annual conference of IFATCA was held last week in Sofia, Bulgaria. Nearly 400 delegates representing 128 countries attended the conference. The conference was formally opened by Mr. Ivaylo Moskovski, Bulgaria's Minister of Transport, Information Technology & Communications, with opening addresses by Mr. Georgi Peev, Director General of BULATSA, the Bulgarian Air Navigation Service provider, and Mr. Mintcho Tzvetkov, Director General of the Civil Aviation Administration.

The theme of the conference was “Air Traffic Controllers –The Heart of the ATM System”.

The conference was successfully organized by BULATCA, the Bulgarian Air Traffic Controllers’ Association. The conference heard from all regions how the Air Traffic Controller is indeed the heart of the ATM System.

In Europe details were provided about the on going threat of legal action against controllers in Spain, the continuing avoidance of the airspace over the Ukraine despite the ATC system being ready to safely process traffic, and the deteriorating situation in Romania where management are no longer recognizing the provisions of the existing collective agreement. In the Americas region the conference heard about the continuing plight of the controllers in the Dominican Republic, where members of the controllers’ association continue to face legal action and social isolation, giving rise to concerns about safety in the region.

In Africa concerns were raised about the poor standard of basic ATC equipment, such as radios and communication gear, which obviously poses a threat to safety. Additionally, continuing staff shortages and the lack of basic staff facilities continues to make the professional lives of controllers in many countries unnecessarily demanding.

In Asia Pacific increasing traffic levels and staff shortages continue to give concern about long term safety. As the conference concluded news emerged of the tragic earthquake in Nepal. The ATC system in Nepal continues to function normally in spite of the devastation in the countries. IFATCA expresses its heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the earthquake, and acknowledges the professional work of the Nepalese air traffic controllers in keeping the airspace safely functioning in these trying circumstances.

The conference held a technical panel on Performance Based Navigation (PBN) with expert input from ICAO, IFALPA, SESAR, Eurocontrol, and NATCA, our American ATC Association. This informative panel, whilst highlighting the incredible benefits of precision automation, highlighted that the efficiencies to be gained still depended upon the controller management of the system.

On the professional aspect the conference heard a number of presentations about the critical importance of Just Culture to the safety of the ATM system. Sadly, the hard won gains in Just Culture in Europe were severely compromised in the appalling handling of the Germanwings tragedy by sections of some government investigative bodies and the mass media. IFATCA has issued a separate press release detailing the conference’s concerns about this event.

In conjunction with ICAO, the conference had a very educational workshop about the professional benefits of competency-based training of air traffic controllers. The interactive workshop was a highlight of the conference and was well attended by controllers from all around the world.

“The problems being experienced by air traffic controllers in all regions, and the details discussed in our PBN and ICAO workshops certainly confirmed the theme of this years conference that the air traffic controller is, and will continue to be, the heart of the Air Traffic Management System. On behalf of IFATCA, I call upon all air navigation service providers to work with their controllers to resolve these issue efficiently and professionally, in the interests of the on going safety of air navigation,” said IFATCA President and Chief Executive Officer Patrik Peters.

“I would like to sincerely thank all participants of the 54th annual IFATCA conference, including our professional partners, ICAO, IFALPA, SESAR and Eurocontrol for their informative input, the Bulgarian service provider BULATSA for their generous support, and I would especially like to thank our Bulgarian association, BULATCA, for organizing such a successful conference,” said Patrik Peters. “IFATCA will continue to work tirelessly as the global professional voice of air traffic in supporting and developing safety and professional standards in our industry. We embrace the benefits of technical innovation but for the foreseeable future the air traffic controller will continue to be the heart of the ATM System,” concluded Mr. Peters.

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