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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


Passengers irked: ‘Flu to blame for OR Tambo delays’

Sickness grounds controllers, leaving passengers stranded in delays at OR Tambo Airport.


For frustrated passengers at OR Tambo International Airport, it was more flu than flew over the past few days as sickness reduced the number of available air traffic controllers, causing long delays for many flights.

Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) – which is responsible for air traffic control – denied yesterday that it was shortstaffed, also saying workers were not on a go-slow.

Delays across departures and arrivals

However, the weekend delays across departures and arrivals at SA’s main airport had pilots turning to social media to vent their frustration.

A pilot posted on Facebook aviation group Fly Africa that ATNS was “once again understaffed. Delays undetermined out of JNB”, meaning nobody knew how long they’d be stuck.

Airlines, including Fly Safair and Airlink, confirmed there were up to 40-60-minute delays because of air traffic restrictions, a result of congestion and staff shortages in the air traffic tower.

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Knock-on rotational impacts further delayed flights in and out of other airports, too.

There were rumblings on social media of unhappy ATNS employees who embarked on a go-slow, but spokesperson Percy Morokane denied that.

Seasonal flu and staff were sick

“This is a period of the seasonal flu, and unfortunately, we had multiple staff who were sick,” he said.

“This is normal, and we have contingency plans and mechanisms in place, such as the regulation of traffic, to ensure the safety is not compromised. There were also technical and weather-related issues that contributed to the delays that were beyond our control.”

Posts were not kind on Fly Africa: “if a plane does not take off in its slot, or on time, they are financially penalised right? Is the airports company penalised for delaying aircraft?” asked one post.

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Another wrote: “The circus has finally come to town.” Yet another was not as kind, referring to the delays as a “sh*t show”.

Delays due to staff shortages

It is not the first time that delays due to alleged staff shortages slowed down air traffic.

Flight deck crew contacted The Citizen late last year about the lack of personnel to direct aircraft in our skies.

In 2022, The Citizen reported that an airspace downgrade was on the cards during late night flights due to staff shortages, which was denied by ATNS.

Morokane said ATNS had adequate human capital to manage the skies.

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