Controllers Accept O'Hare Caps, Decry Staffing Shortages
Air traffic controllers
in Chicago Wednesday said they accept the announced flight
restrictions at O'Hare International Airport in the interest of
safety, but urged the Federal Aviation Administration to pay as
much attention to the rapidly deteriorating staffing situation at
the major Chicago air traffic control facilities as the agency has
in addressing the problem of flight delays.
"The only acceptable and workable solutions to the Chicago
O'Hare capacity crunch are to pour more concrete and hire more
controllers," National Air Traffic Controllers Association
President John Carr said. "They could also implement the capacity
enhancing airspace changes already designed. The FAA has,
regrettably, chosen not to do any of these, opting instead to
artificially cap flights and restrict interstate commerce. While we
hate to see this emerge as a temporary solution, it's in the best
interest of safety, which is our highest priority."
Carr criticized the FAA for failing to address the staffing
crisis at Chicago area facilities that, if not solved soon, "will
result in delay problems even worse than they are right now, along
with a reduced margin of safety."
The Chicago Terminal
Radar Approach Control facility, which directs all aircraft before
their final approach and after their takeoffs to and from O'Hare,
is authorized by the FAA to have 101 controllers on board, but
currently has just 70 fully trained controllers working. The
average age of the controllers is 45 and they are subject to
mandatory scheduled overtime because of the crushing workload. Of
the fully trained controllers on board, 14 are eligible to leave
today and 21 more will become eligible by the end of next year.
Forty could leave by 2007.
In the O'Hare air traffic control tower, 10 percent of the
current controller workforce is eligible to leave today and 56
percent could leave within the next five years.
At Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center, the facility has
experienced a net loss of 44 certified professional controllers
over the past five years and has averaged 71 operational errors per
year. But in the four years before the exodus began in 1999, the
center averaged just 31 errors per year.
"What's happening in Chicago is the proverbial canary in the
coal mine," Carr stated. "Without resources devoted to hiring more
controllers and increasing airport capacity, we are going to see
flights restricted in other busy airports and that is not a
solution that works for anyone."