Staffing Issues At Denver Tracon Raise Concerns, Restrict Traffic

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Traffic in the airspace over Denver has been restricted because managers at the Terminal Radar Control center (TRACON) say they don't have enough experienced controllers to handle the volumes that once were possible, according to an internal FAA memo that was written last month. Kevin Stark, acting air traffic manager for the FAA at the Denver Center, wrote: "The Tracon has indicated that the loss of a large number of their experienced employees, the relative inexperience of many of their current controllers, and the increase in volume has created a situation they can no longer accept. They have indicated that the volume issues created by eight different routes flowing into their airspace routinely creates situations that put their controllers at risk, and they are unable to provide the level of service our customers deserve." Kathryn Vernon, the FAA's director of Western Terminal Operations, told CBS4 of Denver, "As the letter is written, I would agree with you it sounds alarming. ... [However,] there is not a safety issue in the Denver airspace and Colorado airspace."

Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told AVweb the problem proves what NATCA has long been saying: "That forced labor rules and pay cuts would drive out a significantly higher number of experienced controllers into early retirement and attrition, leaving the agency ill-equipped to handle today's traffic demands, let alone be able to train the next generation of controllers being hired." Stark's memo notes that an airspace redesign is already underway for the region, but "this is a long-term project and we do not anticipate any immediate results from this effort." He said FAA will "continue to be mindful of the Tracon's identified issues while looking for ways to improve the service to our customers and increase our flexibility." Church said that in Denver, there are plenty of routes into the airport, lots of space and lots of runways, "and the FAA is having to restrict flow due to a controller staffing problem." Click here to read the full text of the FAA memo from Kevin Stark.