Controller Hiring Push Creates Class Struggle

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The FAA's unprecedented recruiting drive for air traffic controllers has caused bitter division between the new recruits and those who've taken the college route to the console. Pat Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told AVweb in an interview that controller trainees who have gone through college, often amassing large student loans, are now training side by side with people who have almost literally been pulled off the street and into the program. "It's causing a rift amongst the new hires," Forrey said. Ironically, though, Forrey said it's unlikely the off-the-street trainees are at any significant competitive disadvantage against their college-trained classmates. Although the college program trainees get a grounding in aviation to prepare them for the controller training, the advantage is short-lived. Forrey said succeeding as an air traffic controller depends more on innate talent than academic training. "Bottom line is, this job as an air traffic controller really comes down to your aptitude, just your inherent ability to work airplanes," he said. Forrey said the hiring push is coming years too late to avoid staffing problems that could lead to major delays and air traffic tie-ups as the industry enters its busiest season. "It's going to be an ugly summer for the traveling public this year," he said.