Calcutta, Sept. 25: If you can manage to catch your flight on Thursday, you will have a band of 40 people to thank.
These air traffic controllers (ATCs) stand between your successful journey and a total shutdown of the Calcutta airport on September 29, when staff across the country’s 126 airports strike work in protest against a privatisation plan.
ATCs cannot join in because a Supreme Court directive bars them from going on strike, an Airports Authority of India (AAI) official explained. “If they do, they will immediately be hauled up for contempt of court.”
So what these 40 will do is get off their towers ' from where they guide hundreds of aircraft as they land, takeoff or just fly overhead on a normal day ' roll up their sleeves and try to tackle a crisis never before seen in Indian aviation history.
They will be filling in for some 2,000 staff and officials who, cutting across departments of the international and domestic sections, will be absent.
Can they pull it off' The authorities are banking on the one-year “aerodrome officers’ ab-initio course” the ATCs have had to take, getting familiar with all sorts of work at the airport.
The ATCs will work as ground staff in the apron area, where the aircraft come to rest after landing; take on the communications jobs of navigational aid and radar control and run the instrumental landing system (ILS), too.
“Radar control, flight operations ' we’ll have to manage everything,” an ATC Guild spokesman said. “The authorities are trying to get some officer-cadre people to join us; we should be able to get the job done.”
The management is also trying to get some engineers to operate the aerobridge so that passengers can get on and off flights. The CISF has been asked to take care of every kind of passenger need inside the lounge.
If needed, the jawans, with some help from the ATCs, may stamp the tickets, weigh in the luggage and hand out the boarding passes.
Efforts are on to ensure that the fire services are available, for without them there can be no flights.
The last time the ATCs had agitated was six years ago, when they went on “slow work” (no extra work during working hours) in Calcutta. The AAI moved court, won the case and later dismissed four personnel.
“It’s still fresh in our minds. We have explained our position to the agitating staff,” the ATC Guild spokesman said.
The civil aviation brass today held hectic parleys with the Joint Forum of AAI employees to persuade it to call off the strike, but the agitators held firm.