Costa Rica Air traffic controllers are urging the government to open 54 additional positions and settle long-standing debts, warning of protest actions that could disrupt flights.
According to the Air Traffic Controllers Union (SITECNA), technical studies show the country’s control towers are operating with 36% fewer staff than recommended for safety. The union is demanding the government hire 54 more controllers to prevent risks to passengers.
“The need to address these vacancies is about safeguarding people’s lives; it’s not a whim,” said SITECNA president Pedro Parada at a press conference on August 25th. He announced the union plans to launch protests and pressure tactics starting August 28th after months of unsuccessful negotiation.
While the specific actions are still being planned, Parada warned the moves will directly impact service and lead to arrival and departure delays. However, Public Works Minister Luis Amador has rejected the possibility of disruptions under his leadership.
The Chamber of Tourism (Canatur) expressed concerns about potential economic fallout, especially for the tourism sector which relies heavily on smooth air travel. They have informed industry businesses about the brewing controller dispute so precautions can be taken if needed.
Parada stressed that with inadequate staffing, the principles of safety, order and efficiency in air traffic control cannot be guaranteed. The union is also demandingcontrollers be allowed additional “prophylactic” vacation beyond the 12 days mandated by law to relieve on-the-job stress and fatigue.
When the suggestion of reassignments was proposed as an alternative to new hires, Parada said they received no concrete response from the government.
The Transport Ministry announced the Finance Ministry would review possibly adding positions in 2023, but none before then.
According to the air traffic controllers’ spokesperson, the upcoming protests will “directly impact service,” likely causing delays at Juan Santamaría International Airport. The goal is to ensure controllers are alert and well-rested amid increasing air traffic over Costa Rica, the spokesperson emphasized.
Some solutions proposed by the union include temporary 12-hour shifts and temporary tower simulator training to familiarize trainees with real traffic control situations. They also advocate for better equipment maintenance and technology upgrades to handle growing demand.
But the 54 additional hires remains the priority demand for the union representing the controllers responsible for safely directing over 300,000 flights annually in Costa Rican airspace.
With tourism numbers rapidly recovering from the pandemic, officials will be under pressure to resolve the dispute quickly. Any disruption in air travel would deal a major economic blow. But the controllers insist adequate staffing is ultimately about protecting human lives, not just ensuring smooth aviation operations.