FAA Training Chief: Controller Staffing Is Under Control

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As the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) continues to declare “staffing emergencies” at the nation’s busiest air traffic facilities, the FAA’s man in charge of training and hiring controllers told AVweb in an exclusive interview last week that the skies are not as dark as NATCA would have the public believe.

“They can make claims all they want, but their claims don’t compare to the numbers that we have. Their accusations and allegations don’t hold water,” said Jim Trinka, the FAA’s director of technical training and development. In a January press conference, NATCA President Patrick Forrey said "the ability to separate traffic safely has gone to an all-time low" with poor labor relations contributing to low morale and high attrition rates among both trainees and qualified controllers. Responding to Forrey’s comment that the national airspace system is in danger, Trinka said, “I’m very confident that safety is never compromised.”

Trinka told AVweb that the FAA is meeting and often exceeding its hiring projections, with 1,815 new controllers hired in 2007. Of those, 1,019 came from the FAA’s approved training centers; the rest were mostly ex-military. In March 2007 the FAA released an updated hiring plan that called for the agency to bring in 1,400 new controllers. Trinka said he’s offered $20,000 recruitment bonuses to military controllers, to which the military has counter-offered retention bonuses of up to $45,000. “We are as selective as Harvard University,” Trinka said. “NATCA’s claim that nobody wants these jobs because of low pay is patently false.”

New controllers are becoming fully qualified in half the time it took to do so just a few years ago, Trinka said, thanks to simulators. It now takes 2.6 years to fully qualify an en route controller and 1.4 years for a terminal area controller, he said. The FAA has used tower simulators in Chicago, Miami, Phoenix and Ontario, California, since 2006. An additional 24 simulators are being installed over the next 18 months at busy Class B towers including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Washington Reagan National, Dallas Fort-Worth, and Atlanta. Six simulators will be installed at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.