NATCA Hits The Road To Demand More Hiring

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Tower by tower, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has been taking its show on the road, holding news conferences at busy airports around the country to voice concerns about understaffing. This week, media events at airports in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Honolulu followed similar ones held recently in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Seattle. At each conference, NATCA officials list for the local media the number of vacancies at each ATC facility, plus the number of imminent retirements. In Las Vegas on Monday, NATCA officials said there are only 35 fully trained controllers working at the local approach control facility, 21 short of the FAA-authorized total that should be there. The Las Vegas tower could face a shortage of 12 controllers within the next three years, NATCA said. In Chicago last week, NATCA said 56 percent of the controllers at the O'Hare tower could leave within the next five years. The Chicago TRACON's net loss of fully trained controllers since 1999 is 17, and it faces a shortage of nearly three dozen more controllers by the end of next year, according to NATCA. In Philadelphia earlier this month, NATCA said the tower and approach control facilities are facing a shortage of more than three dozen controllers over the next five years.

In Washington this week, NATCA lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill to approve $14 million for the training and hiring of new controllers in 2005. "Unless the funds for hiring are appropriated, staff shortages will inevitably lead to serious delays, congestion and, yes, safety concerns," NATCA President John Carr said in a news release Tuesday. "Given that it takes three to five years to train a controller -- and not everyone makes the cut -- this problem needs to be addressed now."