Request For New Controllers Comes Up Embarrassingly Shy Of
Just 48 days after telling Congress
in a much anticipated report that it planned to hire 1,249 air
traffic controllers in fiscal year 2006 to begin a decade-long
commitment to addressing a looming staffing crisis, the Federal
Aviation Administration's budget request today called for only 595
new hires next fiscal year, breaking its promise to the American
public that it will adequately protect air safety.
"This budget goes beyond playing with smoke and mirrors, it's
playing with fire," said National Air Traffic Controllers
Association President John Carr.
The FAA also revealed that there are only 14,934 controllers in
the system today, down from 15,613 just a year ago, providing the
clearest proof yet, controllers say, that not only is the staffing
crisis worsening, but the agency's plan to replace an aging
workforce is too little and too late.
"I've heard of 'Desperate Housewives,' but this budget reads
like 'Desperate Administration,'" Carr said. "Woefully inadequate
doesn't even begin to describe this latest bait and switch from an
agency that seems unwilling to acknowledge that Congress and the
flying public are demanding more attention to the safety of our
National Airspace System. This is a race to the bottom for safety
and efficiency and it's unacceptable."
Carr (below, right) added, "When it comes to safety, the numbers
have to add up. Unfortunately for travelers, the FAA seems to have
failed Math 101."
The agency's budget request is in
stark contrast to its Dec. 21 "Air Traffic Controller Workforce
Plan: A Plan for the Future," wherein the FAA laid out a detailed
plan to hire 12,500 controllers over the next 10 years to offset a
loss of 73 percent of the controller workforce. Defying its own
pledge to hire more controllers than it loses, the agency will
suffer a three-year net loss of nearly 800 controllers by next
fiscal year. Worse, 20 percent of all controllers will be eligible
to retire by October 2006.
But, Carr said, "The only thing the agency seems to be planning
for is increased congestion and delays and that, unfortunately, is
what travelers should plan for as well. Transportation Secretary
Mineta just 10 days ago said that 17 of the busiest 35 airports in
the country are back to pre-Sept. 11, 2001 traffic levels,
including seven of the top 10. And DOT also announced that delays
were up. So we know the increased demand for air travel is real.
And yet, the FAA will not even live up to its own word to
adequately staff the system. It's fuzzy math, taken to the
Concluded Carr: "The FAA must work with the White House and
Congress to make staffing a priority. We thought the agency was off
to a good start in December with its staffing report. This budget
request shows that commitment to be one step forward and two steps