Federal Report Critiques ATC Training, Congress Investigates

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The FAA's procedures for training new air traffic controllers are falling short, according to a report from the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General issued late last week. On Wednesday afternoon, the topic got a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Aviation. In its report, the OIG said the FAA's program for training new hires on the job is "extremely decentralized" and the efficiency and quality of the training varies widely from one location to another. The same problems were found in 2004, the OIG said, and FAA has made little progress in addressing them. At Wednesday's hearing, Pat Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said a third party -- perhaps the National Academy of Sciences -- should be brought in to help establish "scientifically based" staffing standards for every FAA ATC facility. He also said the FAA needs to back off on the work rules it imposed when negotiations reached an impasse, and try to encourage veteran controllers to stay.

"There are far too many trainees, more than the FAA can safely and effectively handle," NATCA spokesman Doug Church told AVweb on Wednesday. "These human beings are being put into extremely perilous, demoralizing and exhausting conditions, often well before they are prepared to handle it, because the FAA has no other choice due to the staffing crisis." The OIG report said that if the FAA plans to hire and train 17,000 new controllers by 2017, the agency must do a better job of training new hires, be careful not to exceed the training capacity of individual facilities, and must encourage veteran controllers to transfer to the more challenging sites. Hank Krakowski, head of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, testified that traffic is down overall in the national airspace, from airlines to GA traffic, which is helping to "de-stress" the system.