NATCA Maintains Facility Is Already Understaffed
There's evidence the National Air Traffic Controllers
Association is gaining political traction in its frequent, public
allegations the FAA is understaffing air traffic control
The union was influential recently in blocking US Senate
confirmation of Robert Sturgell as FAA Administrator. Now, a
decision by the FAA to add responsibilities to controllers working
the tower at Wisconsin's Mitchell International Airport, near
Milwaukee, has brought pressure on the FAA from Wisconsin's
congressional delegation, and a letter from Senators Herb Kohl and
At issue is the transfer of control of the Ripon Approach
Control Area from Chicago Center -- which has overseen the sector
for 30 years -- to Milwaukee, in order to free up space for a
planned expansion at O'Hare International. Under the new plan,
controllers at Milwaukee will handle Ripon airspace from ground
level to 13,000 feet MSL, with Chicago continuing to monitor the
space above that.
Paul Charapata, Milwaukee Chapter President for the controller's
union, says MKE is already understaffed at 41 controllers. The FAA
counters the normal staffing level there is 37 to 45, and will be
at 53 within a few months -- still three less than the 56
controllers Charapata maintains are needed for the combined
"This is an issue about safety and controller fatigue,"
Charapata said. "Controllers will be operating in air space that is
unfamiliar to them."
FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said she is "very stunned
that the union had gone to the media in an effort to scare the
public," reports the Milwaukee Business Journal. "This is a very
small air space that is being added. This is a perfectly safe
Cory maintains controllers will
handle, on average, five takeoffs or landings per hour in the
expanded space -- which covers about 3,000 square miles, and --
notably to general aviation pilots -- includes the airspace over
Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Appleton.
In a February 11 letter to FAA Acting Administrator Bobby
Sturgell, Kohl and Feingold say they are concerned "about the
increased challenges facing air traffic controllers at General
Mitchell International Airport.
"We have heard from a growing number of constituents about
mounting shortages of controllers as well as a lack of training for
new controllers," the Senators write. "And while the current lack
of trained controllers is a cause for concern, we believe an
impending expansion of the Milwaukee air space could greatly
exacerbate the situation and strain the system’s ability to
ensure public safety."
An additional sore point in the region is a proposed ground
radar facility in Green Bay, which controllers say is needed to
improve their efficiency. The FAA says it is still looking for
suitable land on which to build the radar.