NATCA Says Unfit Controllers Forced To Work

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is accusing the FAA of forcing potentially medically unfit controllers to work traffic at the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center. But the FAA says the charge is nonsense and typical of the union's over-the-top indictment of normal procedures at the agency. Pat Forrey, NATCA's vice president for the Great Lakes Region, said in a news release that three controllers flunked hearing tests and were told they needed to be retested (at their own expense) by an independent audiologist to maintain their medical certification. In the meantime, they were to keep working because, the union says, staffing levels are so low that the agency couldn't afford to lose them. "In this case, the FAA dropped the ball, put safety at risk and exposed itself as an agency in utter disarray," said Forrey. FAA chief spokesman Greg Martin said the union is misrepresenting the situation and noted the current collective agreement addresses this sort of scenario. Martin added that it's relatively common "to get some variations on the hearing test" and that's why the agency allows for retesting. Although Forrey said in his news release that requiring controllers to pay for the second test themselves was "an unprecedented move," Martin said it's actually part of the current contract. Martin said it's also normal to allow controllers to keep working while the second test is being arranged. "There's no reason to put their medical certification at risk when (the test results) can be easily explained," he said. In the NATCA news release, Forrey said he expects the controllers' medical fitness to be restored with the second set of hearing tests.