FAA Reviewing Chicago TRACON

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An FAA team is working in the Chicago TRACON (terminal radar approach control) facility in Elgin, Ill., this week to investigate a sharp increase in errors and a record increase in delays. Twenty-four errors involving violations of minimum spacing between airplanes occurred last year at the facility, up from four errors in 2002, according to the Chicago Tribune. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the TRACON is understaffed. "It took the FAA over a year to realize the magnitude of the problem," NATCA President John Carr said in a news release Thursday. The union says the TRACON has only 75 full-performance-level controllers and 24 trainees, not enough to manage Chicago's increasingly congested airways. Most of those trainees will most likely not survive the facility's rigorous training process, says NATCA, and half of the full-performance-level controllers will be eligible to retire within the next two years. "Over half of our [nationwide] workforce of 15,000 will be eligible to retire by 2011," Carr said. "The FAA cannot close its eyes and act like this problem is going to go away. The FAA seems to think you can wave a magic wand and turn someone into an air traffic controller overnight. But we're not magicians, we're highly trained professionals. And we're not landing magic carpets, we're landing airplanes full of people." The FAA last Wednesday said American and United would cut arrivals at O'Hare by 5 percent between the hours of 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., but the reduction is not enough to make a difference, NATCA said.