Controllers Dispute FAA Staffing Stance

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Last week the FAA issued a press release saying it had exceeded its hiring goals for air traffic controllers in the last fiscal year, attracting 1,800 new air traffic controllers and was on track to meet its long-term goals. “We’re getting a lot of enthusiastic new recruits who are interested in becoming air traffic controllers,” said [then-]Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell. “Controller hiring, training and staffing is a major priority and we are on track to meet future traffic needs.” However, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says that while there may be bodies in the buildings, that doesn’t mean the number of qualified air traffic controllers is reflected in those figures and the manpower crisis it has long predicted is upon us as the most experienced controllers head for the exits. “Our system is on the brink of a total breakdown,” NATCA President Pat Forrey told a teleconference on Monday.

Forrey said 1,558 seasoned controllers left the agency last year (365 became supervisors and are technically still certified as controllers). Most are taking retirement as soon as they’re eligible rather than working until the mandatory retirement age of 56. Hardest hit are the most critical facilities where the experience and knowledge of the old hands is most prized. Forrey said FAA brass don’t recognize the unique skills and natural abilities that he said controllers must have to work the most complex traffic.”They think anyone can do this and they’re wrong,” he said. Losing the experienced controllers will not only create operational difficulties, it will affect training of the new controllers, he said. Forrey said the best way to keep experienced controllers would be to obtain a negotiated contract and get rid of the work rules imposed on controllers 18 months ago.