"NextGen... What About Now-Gen?"
You can blame the
weather... you can blame scheduling conflicts... heck, you can even
(try to) blame corporate jets. If you want the real reason behind
frustrating airline travel delays, though, try looking in the
That's the word from the National Air Traffic Controllers
Association. Locked in a contentious power struggle with the FAA
for the past 14 months over a new contract, the union says a lack
of qualified personnel plays a big role in flight delays
The discrepancy lies in the number of experienced controllers
retiring, or leaving the job under other circumstances. NATCA says
new hires aren't being brought in fast enough to replace them...
adding significant numbers of trainees are choosing to leave the
job, too, due to low pay under the FAA-imposed contract ATC'ers
currently work under.
"We are at an 11-year low in the number of fully trained,
experienced controllers (11,467)," NATCA Communications Director
Doug Church writes in a release to ANN. "It's 1,100 fewer than were
working in 2001, the year the FAA now says we've equaled in traffic
volume. There's only so many planes we can handle at a time and
only so many radar control positions that can be opened due to
Inadequate capacity on runways and at airport gates also leads
to delays, the union adds... contrary to statements by the FAA, and
domestic carriers. Those entities blame this year's record flight
delays on increasing passenger traffic, and outdated technology
unable to handle additional jets in the system, and complications
caused by poor weather conditions.
NATCA President Pat Forrey doesn't necessarily dispute those
problems are factors in flight delays... but he does believe the
FAA and airlines are looking too far ahead for answers -- to the
touted "NextGen" satellite-based control system -- and neglecting
short-term solutions readily at hand.
"NextGen is pie in the sky. What about Now-Gen?" Forrey said,
reports The Associated Press. The union leader adds the FAA has
conducted a "masterful PR campaign" to drum up support for NextGen,
but passengers won't experiences the benefits of such a system for
at least 10 years.
NATCA's complaints of inadequate staffing aren't new -- and
neither is the FAA's response.
Agency spokeswoman Laura Brown says the FAA believes it has
adequate staffing nationwide, and has planned ahead for coming
retirements. She notes the agency has hired about 1,700 air traffic
controllers over the past year, and hopes to increase the number of
controllers from almost 15,000 to 16,000 by 2016. (In a
recent, candid discussion with
ANN, FAA Western Region Spokesman Ian Gregor
also took NATCA to task on its claims of inadequate staffing --
Contrary to the FAA's assertions, however, NATCA says the
numbers speak for themselves.
"[S]taffing at JFK Tower in New York is down to 25 controllers.
That's a 32 percent drop from the 2001 staffing level of 37," the
union says. "But traffic at JFK has increased by 40 percent since
2001. The 25 controllers is also three below what even the FAA
believes is the minimum acceptable staffing level. The agency says
staffing at JFK should be between 28 and 34, according to its
official controller workforce plan."
As ANN reported Wednesday,
DOT figures for August 2007 show on-time performance among the
nation's airlines improved from July of this year... but remains
poorer than the same timeframe in 2006.