Airports aim to relieve congestion

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Avinor, the state agency in charge of Norway’s airports, confirmed on Tuesday that it plans to lease more air traffic controllers from a Swedish aviation consulting agency, in the hopes of avoiding another shortage of staff in the tower this summer. Airline passengers, meanwhile, face doing more of the tasks on the ground themselves.

Avinor, the state agency running Norway's airports, hopes for more harmony in the tower and an end to cancellations and delays caused by a shortage of air traffic controllers. PHOTO: Avinor/Gaute Bruvik

Avinor, the state agency running Norway’s airports, hopes for more harmony in the tower and an end to cancellations and delays caused by a shortage of air traffic controllers. PHOTO: Avinor/Gaute Bruvik

A severe shortage of air traffic controllers last July led to massive airline delays and cancelled flights in the middle of the summer travel season. Controllers also headed off on holiday, and there simply wasn’t enough back-up staff left in the towers to handle all the flights over southern Norway, especially in and out of Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen.

Now Avinor, in an effort to avoid a new round of flight disruption this year, has struck a deal with LFV Aviation Consulting of Sweden to hire in air traffic controllers mostly from Sweden and Denmark. They’ll be ready for work this summer at Avinor’s Oslo-area air traffic control center at Røyken.

“We’re very happy to get this agreement in place,” Avinor chief executive Dag Falk-Petersen said. “The leasing of these air traffic controllers is one of several measures to ensure that we can deliver the services that our customers and the public expect of us.”

Avinor was the target of massive criticism from airlines, passengers and Norwegian authorities when a combination of labour disputes, legal conflicts and summer holidays led to last year’s staff shortage, which forced cuts in the number of flights allowed to take off and land at OSL Gardermoen. Some of the conflicts have since been resolved and Avinor has been trying to boost its own permanent staff, but the leasing deal with LFV Aviation is expected to avert a new crisis.

It’s costing Avinor around NOK 15 million, reported newspaper Dagens Nærngsliv (DN). Avinor, which runs 46 airports around Norway and three air traffic control centers in Oslo, Stavanger and Bodø, is also trying to move as many of its air traffic controllers as possible to the Oslo area, where airline traffic is heaviest. In cooperation with its existing staff, management is also trying to spread out overtime requirements, boost training capacity for new recruits and spread holiday periods throughout the year.

More ‘self-service’ on the ground
Meanwhile, on the ground, Norway’s airports are moving steadily towards more “self-service” systems to cut costs and congestion. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that passengers who already are being expected to check in their bags and themselves are also facing self-service passport control.

Some frequent flyers praise the self-service systems and don’t mind doing the work that airline staff has handled for years. “I avoid standing in line and save a lot of time,” Pål Hellevik, an SAS passenger, told Aftenposten as he put his suitcase on the conveyor belt at OSL Gardermoen and scanned its luggage tag himself. “It’s simple and practical.”

Norway’s gateway airport at Gardermoen already has 16 self-service luggage belts and more are coming. Airlines SAS, Widerøe, Blue1 and Norwegian are using them, and other airlines are expected to follow.

More capacity, and drinking water
OSL is also adding more security checkpoints to increase capacity by 600 passengers an hour, and OSL has become the first airport in Norway to introduce automatic passport scanners for passengers arriving from outside the so-called “Schengen area” in Europe within which travelers can freely cross borders. The service is available for Norwegian citizens holding one of Norway’s new biometric passports.

OSL, currently undergoing a major terminal expansion, has also opened new terminal space in the non-Schengen portion of the airport serving intercontinental passengers and those heading to or through the UK.

One new feature likely to end lots of passenger complaints over the high price of bottled water inside the terminal area: OSL is introducing water fountains where passengers can fill their own empty bottles instead of having to pay as much as NOK 30 (USD 5.50) for a bottle of drinking water to carry with them on board. Until now, it’s only been possible to get lukewarm tap water in airport restrooms. The fountains are due to be in place in the course of this year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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