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Mon, Feb 12, 2007

Senator Urges Committee To Triple FAA's Recruitment Budget

Says US Needs More Air Traffic Controllers

Just how much should the FAA spend to hire more controllers? Senator Charles Schumer says $47.7 million more for FY2008 -- that's triple the amount the agency was to spend on recruitment for the year.

In a statement Sunday, Senator Schumer warned of more flight delays and safety problems unless the congress addresses FAA understaffing.

"Air traffic controllers are the eyes and the ears of airport safety, and in 2006 we saw that a reduction in controllers results in a spike in the number of close calls and even tragic accidents," Schumer said in a statement to reporters Sunday. "New York’s depleted air traffic control towers will become increasingly overwhelmed when it comes to safely and efficiently directing planes through the city’s congested airspace."

The FAA's original $18.2 million request for controller recruitment and training was clipped to $15.9 million, which according to Schumer would allow for 114 new controllers nationwide. Quoting FAA estimates, he says 7,100 controllers -- or 45 percent of its workforce -- will retire within eight years.

New York's three major airports were among the worst in the nation for delays according to December figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says Schumer, and he blames the problem on staffing. Schumer says the towers at LaGuardia and Kennedy should each have 36 controllers, and Newark Liberty should have 40. They currently staff 27, 30 and 29 respectively.

Schumer also suggests controllers are retiring at higher rates because of recent FAA cutbacks in overtime pay, while lower entry-level pay hurts recruitment efforts.

The FAA refutes those assertions however. Agency spokeswoman Laura Brown told the Associated Press retirements are due in large part to a reduction in air traffic since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Brown says Schumer's figures regarding staffing at New York's airports are based on a 2003 labor agreement. "Our New York airports are well-staffed," she said.

As for recruiting, Brown says, "We have 2,000 people waiting to be hired," she said. "We are having no trouble recruiting."

Brown says the FAA hired 1,100 controllers last year and expects to up that figure to 1,300 for 2007. Butin a recent statement, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association -- the union representing the nation's controllers -- claims controller attrition rates still exceed new hires.

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

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