The Cayman Islands Airports Authority has responded to “deep concern” expressed by Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller that the CIAA is recruiting too many air-traffic controllers from overseas, and may be blocking future management opportunities for Caymanians as a result.
On Monday, Mr. Miller released a statement criticizing the CIAA for seeking to increase its air-traffic control staff by more than 50 percent when air traffic has only increased by a fraction of that in recent years.
Mr. Miller further criticized CIAA’s hiring advertisements that allegedly offer successful candidates a two-year contract with a development plan for eligible employees. Overseas recruits that are hired will likely “take root” here and block opportunities for Caymanians, he said.
“The large disparity in ratio of aircraft movements and staffing numbers makes the recruitment of such a large number of new air traffic controllers highly suspect,” Mr. Miller said. “On the face of it, this just does not seem justifiable, especially as it is very likely to place these jobs ultimately out of reach of Caymanians.”
However, the CIAA responded to Mr. Miller’s comments on Tuesday, disputing the MLA’s characterization of its hiring practices.
The authority stated that there is only one work-permit holder among its 196 employees. Moreover, the CIAA has been trying to hire more Caymanian air-traffic controllers for years.
Two Caymanians were recruited, successfully trained, and joined as air-traffic controllers in 2014. Two more recruits were hired in 2016, one of which was sent to Trinidad last year for training that is still ongoing. Another candidate was hired in 2017, but was not successful in completing the training.
Another recruitment drive in late 2017 and early 2018 yielded 33 applicants, 20 of which were Caymanian. Of those, only three passed the air-traffic control aptitude test, and the non-Caymanians were not considered, according to the CIAA.
“Out of a desire to maximise the opportunity afforded to Caymanians, a second evaluation, focusing on personality traits was administered. This effort resulted in five candidates being eligible,” the CIAA added. “Four persons were interviewed and subsequently offered positions as ATC Trainees. The fifth candidate withdrew their application prior to the interview process in favour of another open position within the CIAA.
“These four candidates commenced their local AB initio training on 1 February 2019 in preparation for overseas training.”
The CIAA also stated that it needs to hire additional air-traffic controllers to comply with aviation regulations. CIAA CEO Albert Anderson explained this to the Compass in December, when he said his authority is seeking to have four people on duty during a given shift.
“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 at the time. “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 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.
Hiring the remaining 13 controllers will be a phased process over the next couple of years, he said in December.
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.