There have been chaotic scenes at airports across Australia with travelers missing connections or experiencing long delays – all because two workers called in sick.
The absence of Sydney control tower staff left a gap that could not be filled on Monday, forcing Airservices Australia to request a ground delay program from 3pm until airport curfew at 11:00 pm, causing chaos throughout the country.
Many Qantas and Virgin Australia flights were affected, with passengers experiencing delays of more than an hour, while some had their flights cancelled.
The government agency responsible for staffing, Airservices Australia, confirmed it was forced to reduce flights by around 50 per cent.
None of the 948 air traffic controllers across Australia were able to replace the two sick Sydney tower workers, causing chaos across the country.
International tourists missed their connecting flights as Qantas and Virgin flights were delayed by more than an hour (file image)
The reduction meant that the usual 50 takeoffs and landings per hour were reduced to just 26 per hour.
Qantas flights experienced an average delay of 72 minutes, while Virgin Australia flights experienced delays of more than 90 minutes.
Airservices Australia was grilled by furious Liberal senator Bridget McKenzie in parliament’s Senate committee on Monday.
“(It’s) unbelievable that two people don’t show up to work and the whole country is shut down,” he said.
“When Sydney is disrupted, the entire country suffers and international travelers also lose connections as a result.”
‘Do I want to understand your response to this?’
Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield said in the Senate that none of the 948 air traffic controllers across the country would be able to replace the two sick workers.
It was also revealed that air traffic controllers are entitled to unlimited sick leave.
Harfield also explained that flight delays directly attributable to Airservices had worsened since the Covid pandemic.
That’s when around 140 experienced air traffic controllers were given the option to retire early.
The widespread chaos was caused by just two workers calling in sick. In the photo, Sydney airport.
Liberal senator Bridget McKenzie on Monday questioned Airservices Australia, the government agency that manages air traffic staff.
Airservices Australia said safety was its first priority.
“We have temporarily reduced traffic to manage flights safely within available capacity,” he said in a statement.
‘Airservices is improving the resilience of its service by recruiting and training more than 100 new air traffic controllers (ATC) across the country since 2020.
“More than 70 new ATCs are planned for fiscal year 2024 and another 80 ATCs are projected to join us each year to add more depth to our ATC rosters.”