There have been chaotic scenes at airports across Australia with travellers missing connections or experiencing long delays - all because two workers called in sick.

The absent Sydney control tower staff left a gap that couldn't be filled on Monday, forcing Airservices Australia to request a ground delay program from 3pm right until the airport's 11pm curfew, sparking nationwide chaos.

Many Qantas and Virgin Australia flights were affected, with passengers experiencing delays of more than an hour, while some had their flights cancelled.

The government agency responsible for staff, Airservices Australia, confirmed it was forced to reduce flights by about 50 per cent. 

The reduction meant its usual 50 take off and landings an hour were cut to just 26 an hour.

Qantas flights experienced an average delay of 72 minutes, while Virgin Australia flights were delayed by more than 90 minutes. 

Airservices Australia was grilled by a furious Liberal Senator Bridget McKenzie in parliament senate committee on Monday. 

'[It's] incredible that two people don't show up for work and the entire country is shut down,' she said.

'When Sydney experiences disruption, the whole country suffers and international travellers are also missing connections as a result of this.' 

 'I want to understand your response to this?'

Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield  told at the senate that not one of the 948 air controllers across the country could fill in for the two ill workers.

It was also revealed air traffic controllers are entitled to unlimited sick leave.

Mr Harfield also explained flight delays directly attributable to Airservices had worsened since the Covid pandemic.

This was when about 140 experienced air traffic controllers had the option of early retirement.

Airservices Australia said safety was its first priority.

'We have temporarily reduced traffic throughput to manage flights safely within the capacity available,' it said in a statement.

'Airservices is enhancing its service resilience by recruiting and training more than 100 new air traffic controllers (ATCs) nationwide since 2020.

'More than 70 new ATCs are due in FY2024 and a further 80 ATCs are projected to join us each year moving forward to add further depth to our ATC rosters.'

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2024-02-12T13:14:50Z dg43tfdfdgfd