Unusually Severe Weather Isn't Solely To Blame For Delays,
As he prepares for his impending move out-of-state, ANN Managing
Editor Rob Finfrock has been spending a lot of time planewatching
at his favorite airport, Addison (ADS), in the eastern portion of
the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex... and lately, he's been hearing a
lot of interesting exchanges between controllers, and
planes waiting to takeoff. The typical exchange goes
something like this...
"Addison tower, Widget 123, ready for departure at
"Widget 123, Addison tower, hold short, standby for IFR
Minutes go by...
"Addison, Widget 123, how much longer will it be?"
"Widget 123, departure's been running about 20 minutes
behind today, standby and I'll give them a call."
At 25 minutes since the first call, the pilot -- obviously
impatient, though also realizing it doesn't pay to shoot the
messenger -- again radios the tower.
"Addison, Widget 123 will have
to shut down an engine here if it's going to be much
"Understood, Widget 123," the sympathetic controller
replies. "You're currently tenth in line with
While the unusually severe weather so far this
year in DFW can be blamed for many of those delays -- as well as
similar storms at several destination airports throughout the
nation -- the National Air Traffic Controllers Association tells
ANN a worsening shortage of air traffic controllers at several
facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is also contributing
to increasing headaches.
Here is a snapshot look at several facilities' staffing
situation, according to NATCA:
DFW Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)
The union says there are currently 68 fully certified
controllers on staff, along with 14 in training, including three
with military controller experience. Combined with two controllers
currently out on extended medical leave, that makes 84 on staff.
Controllers believe there should be 117, the number the union says
the FAA agreed was needed to safely and efficiently run the
facility before the agency "arbitrarily" replaced it in March with
a new range of 83 to 101.
NATCA says the lower number has resulted in increased usage of
overtime by FAA management officials to desperately try and fill
the positions. From January through mid-August, the FAA is slated
to use $444,000 worth of overtime to cover for a lack of staffing,
according to the union... and of the 68 controllers working today,
80 percent now are forced to work OT.
At least five certified controllers are posed to retire in 2007,
NATCA adds, with another 10 or so in 2008. In that time, two
trainees are scheduled to come online.
There are 44 fully certified controllers on staff, along with
seven trainees, according to NATCA, for a total of 51 total --
eight short of what NATCA and the FAA agreed was needed, prior to
the March announcement. Today, the FAA says a range of 47 to 57
controllers can do the job at DFW.
The facility expects to welcome 14 new trainees in the next
seven months. However, NATCA expects that the tower will lose one
fully trained controller to a supervisor position next month in
Memphis, and as many as six more controllers will retire by
January. Additionally, two or three supervisor positions are
expected to open up in January, and the union says the FAA will
likely pull from the controller ranks to replace those spots.
Fort Worth ARTCC
The Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center currently has
290 fully certified controllers on board, and 65 more in training.
The FAA originally said there should be 379 controllers at the
facility, NATCA says, before the agency reduced that number to
between 238 and 290. NATCA maintains those reduced levels are not
adequate for the facility, as evidenced by the fact that two of the
seven different areas of airspace handled in the facility are
currently experiencing staffing problems due to retirements.
As an example, in one of the two short-staffed areas, former
staffing numbers based on traffic required 11 controllers. But
local FAA managers have had to do away with that number and are
routinely staffing 10 positions in the area with seven controllers,
according to NATCA. This is accomplished by combining sectors of
airspace, resulting in controllers forced to work more than one
sector at a time. In addition, during recent high traffic periods
due to adverse spring weather, these short-staffed areas have not
had controllers available to assist controllers experiencing high
workloads when that assistance would allow the sector to remain
Between now and the end of September, as many as 10 to 15
controllers will either retire or be promoted to supervisor
positions left vacant by retirements, further exacerbating the
staffing problem, according to NATCA. Additionally, the facility
was averaging one operational error per week for the past couple of
months as a result of fewer controllers looking after more
Dallas Love Field Tower
The tower currently has 18 fully certified controllers on staff,
down from a high of 30. There are three new hires on board and two
controllers in training that came to the tower from other fully
certified positions elsewhere. One prospective job candidate with a
military controller background recently rejected the FAA’s
NATCA says there is word perhaps as many as four new trainees
may arrive by September; however, the facility has lost four
certified controllers to retirement so far this year and a fifth
has announced intentions to retire in October. In January, nine
more controllers will be eligible to retire, according to
The union believes 24 is the correct amount of controllers
needed to safely staff the facility. The FAA says a range of 19 to
23 can do the job.