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FAA Ramps Up Efforts To Hire Controllers

NATCA Says New Hires Will Encounter Old Problems

In what the agency termed an effort to streamline the application process for air traffic controllers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday it has created consolidated screening and testing centers to provide "one stop shopping" for prospective new employees.

Dubbed Pre-Employment Processing Centers (PEPCs,) the centers couple screening and testing, and can rotate to the FAA facilities where prospective controllers are interviewed. Instead of making separate appointments that can take up to two weeks to complete, the system streamlines the process.

FAA personnel tell ANN that by consolidating security clearances, medical screenings, and fingerprinting, the agency will be able to cut weeks off the application process -- and get new controllers into training that much quicker.

The first center was set up at the regional FAA office in New York, and was termed a success with over 90 prospective controllers interviewed, according to the FAA. Other PEPCs will be held in Florida, Atlanta, Fort Worth, and Chicago between now and the spring.

"The FAA put out a job announcement just last month that attracted 3,000 applicants in 15 days. The overwhelming response for new air traffic controller positions highlights the enthusiasm, passion and determination of our applicants," said Bobby Sturgell, the FAA’s acting administrator. "They are ready to work and we want to get them processed and in training as soon as possible."

The agency says the consolidated screening process is a part of the FAA's aggressive recruitment and hiring program. As many veteran controllers prepare to retire in the coming years, the FAA plans to hire more than 1,800 new air traffic controllers in 2008, and increase total controller staffing to more than 15,000.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, however, tells ANN the FAA's new streamlined application process is a little like applying a small band-aid to a gaping wound -- it will help a little, perhaps, but not enough to save the patient.

As ANN has reported extensively, the union is locked in a bitter fight with the FAA, over the new contract and work rules imposed by the agency in June 2006, following the declaration of an impasse in contract talks. The union believes that even if more controllers are hired under the FAA's new program, more quickly than before, they'll still find they're entering a hostile work environment.

"NATCA will not allow the FAA to put up these smoke screens and try and distract attention from the real issue -- its ruthless, draconian treatment of its current workforce that has now needlessly risked the safety and efficiency of the system," said NATCA spokesman Doug Church. "If the FAA truly wants to do something to address the controller shortage, it will resume contract negotiations with NATCA ASAP.

"That's the only hope of preventing several hundred more veteran controllers and also frustrated and upset new hires from leaving over the next few months," Church added. "And the only hope for the system not to fall into further disarray and needless risk."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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