An air traffic controller directs an inbound flight to Owen Roberts International Airport. - Photo: Ken Silva

Some 20 years ago, a lone air traffic controller directed the planes entering and exiting Cayman Islands airspace.

As the islands developed, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority started having two air traffic controllers work during a given shift, with one directing inbound traffic and one handling departures.

Now, with 34,000 flights coming through Cayman each year and that number on the rise, the authority is looking to hire 13 new people so it can have four controllers on duty per shift, according to Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson.

The new hires will allow there to be one relief person to serve as a backup when the air traffic controllers take their required breaks. A supervisor also has to be on duty for all shifts, Mr. Anderson said.

The CEO said having four people on duty during a shift is also required for Cayman by international aviation standards.

“There are International Civil Aviation Organization regulations that must be met that relate to Air Traffic Controller resourcing, and Cayman is bound by these regulations through the U.K. under the Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements,” he said. “The CIAA must ensure that going forward we have a pipeline of trained controllers to ensure we meet these regulations, especially to deal with increasing air traffic.”

The CIAA had been discussing the issue of increasing the number of air traffic controllers all year, but just started the hiring process in July after receiving approval from its board for the unbudgeted expense.

Air traffic control trainees will start at salaries of between $20,000 and $30,000, and will have a starting salary of $46,000 once fully trained.

Mr. Anderson said 24 Caymanians originally applied, but that only three of them passed the test, with one of those candidates choosing another career within the Airports Authority.

After another round of testing and interviews, four people were approved for hire. Those people will start as trainees next month.

Hiring all 13 controllers will be a phased process over the next couple of years, Mr. Anderson said.

Once the authority hires a new person, getting him or her fully certified will be a two-year process, including off-island training and on-the-job training, with the final step being certification and licensing by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Airports Authority initially contemplated cheaper options than hiring new controllers, such as having approaching flights being directed remotely by controllers from another jurisdiction.

However, the authority opted against this because it would be favorable only in the short term, with Cayman losing the skill set in the long run, stated the authority’s May 23 board meeting minutes.

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