Air traffic controllers in ‘race-card spat’

2014-11-17 16:59

Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) has expressed shock at claims that it had falsely accused two of its managers of racism.

“ATNS is in no position to discuss the merits of internal disciplinary processes – currently under way – against Mr Johnny Smit and Mr Leon Altree,” said the company today.

“Even if we had an iota of desire to do so... the ‘sub judice’ rule applies.

“We can nonetheless confirm that the two individuals are facing very serious allegations which might lead to their dismissal.”

Trade union Solidarity, which represents Smit and Altree, yesterday said the charges of racism related to separate incidents in which air traffic controllers allegedly jeopardised air safety with inappropriate air traffic instructions.

Smit, an air traffic controller manager, and Altree, an acting operational manager, recommended disciplinary action against four air traffic controllers.

“Instead of instituting the recommended disciplinary action against the air traffic controllers, ATNS charged Smith and Altree with racism and suspended them,” said Solidarity.

Solidarity spokesperson Piet le Roux said the fact that the managers were white and the air traffic controllers were black, should not play a role.

“Turning the matter into a racial issue is an injustice to our members. What’s more, the public’s safety is put at risk when serious violations are ignored.”

One of the charges involved an incident at the OR Tambo International Airport in June 2013, when an the air traffic controller allegedly almost caused a fatal plane crash by giving a Boeing 777-200 permission to take off while allowing a smaller plane to land on the same runway at the same time.

Smit and Altree recommended that disciplinary steps by taken against the controller.

Dana Viljoen, who is assisting the managers in the hearings on behalf of Solidarity, rejected allegations that they had applied a double standard with respect to white and black air traffic controllers.

“ATNS claims that our members are racist because they made different recommendations regarding violations in which white and black air traffic controllers were involved respectively, but ignores the difference in the nature and seriousness of the respective violations.”

ATNS said it wanted to put it on the record that all aviation-related safety incidents were reported to and investigated by the SA Civil Aviation Authority.

“We would also like to assure the general public/passengers that at no stage were their lives and/or safety compromised [in the incidents],” it said.

“After the conclusion of the aforementioned disciplinary process against Messrs Smit and Altree, ATNS will be in a position to comment on any matter that may need clarity.”

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