Air traffic controllers - 'unsung heroes' of civil aviation - lauded at regional meeting in Singapore

Air controllers at the Singapore Air Traffic Control Centre.
Air controllers at the Singapore Air Traffic Control Centre. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - About 160 air traffic controllers and pilots from 10 territories including Singapore met here on Friday (Oct 21) for an annual opportunity to discuss industry matters and exchange ideas.

The event at the Singapore Aviation Academy was jointly organised by the Air Traffic Controllers Association (Singapore) and Air Line Pilots Association (Singapore).

Overseas participants came from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Opening the one-day symposium, Mr Soh Poh Theen, deputy director-general (air navigation services) at the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, noted close ties between pilots and air traffic controllers who "talk to one another over the air all the time on a daily basis".

"They are constantly working hand in glove together," he said.


Oct 20 had marked The International Day of the Air Traffic Controller.

On Friday (Oct21), Mr Soh took the opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who ensure safe takeoffs, landings and flights.

"People out in the world know about airlines and they know about airports. But you and I know who the unsung heroes behind civil aviation are. This morning, I shall sing you praises... Without air traffic control, the aviation system as we know it will grind to a halt," he declared.

Air traffic control is not just a job, but a vocation and a calling, he said. It is a 24/7 commitment. Air traffic control does not sleep.

For air traffic controllers, safety is in the blood, Mr Soh said.

"This priority on safety is not just lip service alone, it is all very real. The lives of many people are in your hands every time you take control of an aircraft. On a day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute basis, the safe operation of each and every flight is made possible by the dedication and professionalism of air traffic control officers," he said.

The cross-border nature of aviation also demands collaboration regardless of nationalities, Mr Soh stressed.

"This instinct is indispensable to our work. It also lightens our burden. It makes us better than who we are alone. We are more effective and safer working together," he added.

With the demand for air travel growing not just in Singapore but globally, the International Civil Aviation Organisation - the United Nations' civil aviation arm - estimates that the world will need another 40,000 air traffic controllers by 2030.

In Singapore, the CAAS intends to grow the pool of air traffic controllers from 390 now to about 600 from 2020 onwards.