Tower, Or TRACON? Some Won't Be Trained In Both
In a move intended to speed training as the agency faces a
critical shortage of experienced air traffic controllers, the FAA
plans to narrow the training requirements for personnel heading to
Memphis and Orlando... a plan the National Air Traffic Controllers
Association says could be dangerous.
The Associated Press reports the FAA plans to end cross-training
of ATC personnel in tower operations, and handling traffic at
Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities. Previously,
controllers spent time handling both... a move meant to increase
controllers' understanding of both jobs, and how they
But that added training takes time, which is something the FAA
doesn't have much of as it works to replace controllers hired
following the 1981 PATCO strike, who are now approaching
retirement. The FAA also makes the argument controllers will handle
their individual duties better when they can focus on just one
"It's simply focusing their training to do precisely what
they're going to be doing," FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said.
Not surprisingly, however, not all controllers agree. "It masks
their staffing problems," said Victor Santore, regional vice
president for NATCA.
The controllers union -- which has been locked in a contentious
battle with the FAA over a contract imposed in June 2006 -- says
those lesser job duties will translate to reduced pay for
controllers, to the tune of 4-8 percent in some cases. Fewer
personnel will be available for emergencies, too, or to cover for
workers out on sick leave.
John Wallin, who heads the NATCA chapter in Memphis, maintains
cross-training improves coordination between towers and TRACONs as
they vector traffic over busy airports... and suggests the lack of
such training could lead to problems.
"Controllers who work in the tower will no longer have the
experience that radar controllers have and that could lead to a
disaster because they're not going to know what each other is
doing," he said.
The FAA has already ended cross-training at facilities near
several larger airports, including Atlanta and Chicago. Attempts to
restrict training in Miami and Philadelphia were scaled back,
however, after Congress questioned the safety of such a move.
Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello -- who serves as chairman of
the House subcommittee on aviation, and is a frequent critic of the
FAA's hard-line stance against controllers -- says any attempt by
the agency to lessen certification requirements for new-hire
controllers will face review by lawmakers, "if in fact that is
Currently, about one-quarter of all air traffic controllers
nationwide are in training... and that figure is expected to
increase to 30 percent within four years.