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General News of Monday, 16 July 2007

Source: The Heritage

Trouble simmers at Kotoka Airport

(The Heritage) -- Imminent danger looms at the nation’s premier airport, the Kotoka International Airport, and while the management claims to be working feverishly to avert any calamitous incident like loss of life or property, safety and communications personnel have maintained that, it has reached a dead-end.

However aviation experts familiar with the situation have urged the Aviation Ministry to redouble efforts and prevent the looming aviation crisis.

'These people handle all the communications, navigation and surveillance equipment on the ground (including the radar) that makes it possible for the controller to communicate with the pilot; some of them license all the aircraft and check their airworthiness, so the mere fact that they are disenchanted with their condition of service makes the situation a very scary one," a management member unhappy with what is going on told the paper.

Months of investigations have revealed a tensed moment at the Kotoka International Airport with a simmering disaffection among the safety, communications, navigation and surveillance officers over payment of what is described as the Extra Duty Allowance (EDA).

The disaffected officials and some of their backers within the divided management of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) have told the Heritage that, they are prepared for any action including the one that could lead to the eventual closure of the KIA, saying 'we cannot hold the fire anymore.'

"The Ghana Air Traffic Safety Electronics Association (GHATSEA) and Ghana Aeronautical Information Services Association (GHAISA) jointly wish to ... press home our demand for the unconditional resolution of the pending grievances, namely poor salary and allowance disparities, among others.

"Much as we appreciate the strategic role our services play in flight control and operations, we would hereby wish to state that we have reached our wits end and cannot continue to be dragged from one fruitless meeting with GCAA Management to another.

"It has become clear to us that either they are unwilling or incapable of solving the problem. It is difficult to understand how Management could admit that they have made a mistake by leaving us out in the first place and then turn round to plead for time. The plain truth is that, they have no clue as to how to solve the problem.

"In short, our position currently is borne out of imminent break-down of worker-management relationship coupled with the lackadaisical approach of management towards the resolution of our genuine grievances.

"In as much as it is your desire to see that peace and harmony always prevail at the three major sectors under your ministry, as you have rightly stated during our first official meeting with you at your office on May, 24, 2007, being our 'mother' we wish to appeal to you to use your good offices to personally take appropriate measures to intervene to save the situation," a memo to the Minister of Aviation by the aggrieved GCAA personnel and dated 12 July, 2007 stated.

Prior to this memo and the sudden burst of agitation, there had been almost seven months of negotiations between the said personnel and the management of the GCAA.

These serious negotiations and anxiety began just after the de-coupling of the GCAA on the 1st of January 2007.

GCAA currently is made up of the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), the Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel (ATSEP) and the Aeronautical Information Services (AIS) on one hand and the Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) on the other.

The ATC, the ATSEP and the AIS form the core sections of the GCAA covering the Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) or the Air Traffic Management (ATM).

The ATSEP, the AIS together with some personnel at the Safety Regulations are grumbling over the preferential treatment of the ATC in terms of conditions of service, particularly, the EDA.

“The Heritage has learnt that, those aggrieved allied workers were promised that the situation would be addressed after the January de-coupling of the GCAA, but alas, that was not the case.”

Instead, conditions of service of the ATC have kept on improving day-by-day to the chagrin of other staff, provoking the recent tense situation. Not even the intervention of Madam Gloria Akufo, the Aviation Minister could resolve the situation.

Some personnel of the ATSEP and the AIS have started wearing red attire as indication of their preparedness to embark upon an industrial action that observers believe would have a telling effect on the nation's aviation system.

An aviation expert who spoke to the Heritage on condition of anonymity said, the last time the nation reached an edgy situation like this was in the late 70s, during the reign of General Kutu Acheampong and sounded a warning that, properties and lives of passengers are at stake if the current impasse is not resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties.

Additionally, the expert explained that, the likely scenario would be the closure of the Kotoka International Airport and other major airports within Ghana's Flight Information Region (FIR).

According to him, apart from the KIA, Ghana's FIR covers major airports including that of Lome and Cotonou and any crisis that would arise would affect both Benin and Togo.

However, in an interaction with the management of the GCAA last Friday at the KIA tower, Mr. Eric T. Noi, the Corporate and Communications Manager said, negations are ongoing to resolve the situation and that, it is an issue of impatience from the aggrieved parties.

He said, while the management does not expect the occurrence of any mishap, contingency arrangement has been made to contain any situation, including industrial action.