Pinpoints Staffing At LA ARTCC
Air traffic controller staffing
shortages caused by the Federal Aviation Administration are at
critical levels at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control
Center, resulting in a serious degradation in the margin of safety.
Several recent close calls can be attributed to the dangerously low
staffing levels caused by unacceptable FAA cuts, proof that the
agency continues to mismanage the system, according to unionized
Recently, NATCA says two planes came within 800 feet of
each other in bad weather because the FAA had staffed two radar
positions with only one controller instead of the normal four. On
Aug. 12, at approximately 2:05 p.m. PDT, a regional jet flying from
Salt Lake City to Los Angeles International Airport came within one
mile laterally and 800 feet vertically of a King Air jet flying
from Palm Springs, CA to Livermore, CA.
"This close call is an example of a dangerous FAA trend of
understaffing vital facilities," said Hamid Ghaffari, Los Angeles
Center facility representative for the National Air Traffic
Controllers Association. "Under normal circumstances, these two
positions would be staffed by four controllers and not just
The FAA, beginning last April 1, directed managers at Los
Angeles Center to reduce controller staffing during the day and
swing shifts. Ghaffari said this has translated to a dramatic spike
in operational errors.
In another recent close-call, two planes came within 100 feet of
each other. This past Sunday, Aug. 14, at approximately 9 p.m. PDT,
a Learjet flying from Cheyenne, Wyo. to Burbank, Calif. came within
100 feet vertically and three miles laterally of a Frontier
Airlines jet flying from LAX to Denver. Air traffic was very heavy
and jets were forced to deviate around substantial thunderstorm
activity. But at the time of the operational error, the area was
staffed with only eight certified controllers and two trainees.
Normal staffing for this shift calls for 15 controllers and not 10,
"Traffic has increased dramatically at L.A. Center and yet the
FAA continues to reduce our staffing numbers," Ghaffari remarked.
"L.A. Center handles 23 percent more planes than it did in 1992 but
has 27 percent fewer controllers. Recently, 21 new trainees were
sent to L.A. Center. Unfortunately, we do not have enough
controllers to be able to train them on the job."
Added Ghaffari: "It's time for the FAA to address this critical
staffing crisis. Let's be clear here -- this problem is nothing
new. We have repeatedly asked everyone at the FAA to address it --
from the administrator, Marion Blakey, to local managers. This is a
simple equation -- understaffing means bigger workloads and longer
work hours for controllers and it increases the likelihood of a
tragic mistake because fewer eyes are available to catch
(Note: NATCA and the FAA are still locked in tense contract
negotiations -- ed.)