NATCA Says ATC Hiring Scheme Needs Tweaking

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is suggesting the FAA rethink its new ATC hiring protocol after the first attempt netted only a fraction of the controller trainee candidates it expected. As we reported in February, the agency revised its recruitment policies in the hopes of attracting a more diverse pool of prospective controllers.  More than 28,000 people applied but of those, only 2,200 passed a somewhat mysterious "biographical questionnaire" to advance to the next selection level. NATCA says the FAA was hoping for 30 percent to pass the questionnaire phase. Among those who failed the questionnaire were graduates of collegiate ATC programs and former military controllers, who, until the change, would have been virtually guaranteed a shot at being selected for training. Instead, they were put in the same pool as the thousands of candidates with no relevant experience or training and judged on their answers to personal questions. "Our confidence in the [FAA's] first step in addressing a significant air traffic controller hiring need has unfortunately turned to deep concern," NATCA said in a statement to AVweb. "The FAA must address this flawed biographical evaluation and correct the unintended consequence of rejecting what we believe are hundreds if not thousands of qualified candidates." The FAA did not immediately respond to our weekend request for comment.

The new hiring policy has also prompted widespread complaints from 36 educational facilities offering ATC courses under the FAA-approved collegiate training initiative (CTI) across the country and recent graduates who were surprised by the abrupt change. The issue has prompted news stories all over the country, usually quoting recent CTI grads who flunked the biographical questionnaire and sometimes mentioning those who passed but had no idea why. Implementation of the questionnaire appears to have had its origins in a study done jointly by the FAA and San Diego State University in 2012 (PDF) that said the questionnaire "has validity as a predictor of air traffic control specialist performance ratings" and that the questionnaire "yielded nearly identical mean scores across gender and ethnicity." The study said the questionnaire is designed to gather biographical data by "asking individuals to recall and report their typical and sometimes specific behaviors or experiences in a reference situation, generally from an earlier time in their lives." NATCA says the FAA needs to revisit the process quickly because a controller shortage is looming: "There are now over 3,000 controllers who are eligible to retire but only 1,500 currently training to replace them, a process that takes two to three years."