FAA Suspends Training To Review Operation
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association tells ANN five
operational errors have occurred in less than two weeks at the
Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) -- the
nation’s busiest such facility -- including three that
happened in a span of four recent days, prompting local Federal
Aviation Administration management officials to suspend all
training of new controllers for three days to assess the
facility’s training and staffing situation.
The errors were spread out in different sectors of airspace
controlled by Southern California TRACON (SCT). For instance, one
error -- defined as two aircraft coming closer than FAA rules allow
-- occurred on the final approach path into LAX and one on the
approach into Santa Ana, Orange County John Wayne Airport.
"We have had mandatory six-day work weeks for a few months now
and that has led to fatigue and a loss of focus and has reduced our
margin for error to a bare minimum," said NATCA SCT Facility
Representative Steve Merlin. "Our normal shift rotation has become
a mixture of varying start and stop times and controllers have been
pushed to their physical and mental limits."
Merlin said all but one area of the facility’s airspace
has training that goes on constantly. There are 40 trainees on
board, with more to come, for a total of nearly 60 within the next
"We are losing controllers to retirement and promotions to
management on an average of two a month," Merlin asserts. "We are
almost 80 fully certified controllers short of our needs, with the
new hire numbers not even being able to replace those people much
less get us up to the staffing number we need."
NATCA adds in the Empire Area of SCT, the FAA is training on all
positions plus a group of veteran controllers are being trained on
the newly consolidated Palm Springs sectors, the result of the
FAA’s rushed efforts to move Palm Springs’ radar
control responsibility to SCT. In three other areas, the veteran
controllers are also being trained on new sectors while they train
the new hires on the old sectors.
In at least two of the operational error incidents, a hand-off
or "assist" was needed but not staffed by the FAA supervisor,
according to the controllers union. One involved a new hire who was
on his own on his first radar scope and one occurred while training
was being conducted.
"We are running shifts that used to be staffed with 11 or 12
fully certified controllers (CPCs) with six or seven CPC's," Merlin
said. "On August 4th, the Empire Area was forced to work the day
shift with four CPC's when 11 was the norm. Plus, we’re
forced to train new hires on top of that."
Additionally, Merlin said, "we have had on the job training
instructors ask to have a day of 'just working traffic' because
they are burnt out from training and they have been told 'no' by
the FAA and forced to train against their wishes and judgment."
Locked in a contentious contract dispute with the FAA for the
past several years, controllers have worked under a contract
imposed by the agency since June 2006.