By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
After spending roughly $78,000 on each one, the FAA's own projections predict that some 14 percent of new controller hires will elect to do something other than be air traffic controllers this year, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The washout rate more than doubles that of 2006 and is up substantially from the 9 percent who left in 2007. In response, the FAA says it is hiring more people than it needs to stay ahead of retirements and controller departures, but Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), says the controller staffing crisis is real ... and it's because of low wages. The Transportation Department Inspector General's (IG) recent report discussed in the House last Wednesday says that top pay for controllers has been cut from $143,984 to $106,200 while starting pay is down to $37,800 from $44,800.
Representative Jerry Costello, D-Ill., said in a meeting last week that the FAA has lost nearly 1,000 controllers since last October resulting in the lowest number of qualified controllers since 1992. The IG reported that the number of controllers in training rose from 2,209 in 2004 to 3584 last year, but that the number of qualified controllers has dropped from 12,328 to 11,026 over the same period. But traffic is down, too. The FAA plans to hire and train 17,000 new controllers by 2017. Placing those that stay and moving veteran controllers has been identified by the IG as a key to maintaining appropriate functionality in the system, which is currently benefiting from an overall reduction in traffic, from airlines to GA.