Wed, Nov 24, 2004
Controllers Say Delays, Congestion Inevitable Without More
Aggressive FAA Action
As millions of Americans
take to the skies this holiday season, the National Air Traffic
Controllers Association is calling on the Federal Aviation
Administration to work with the new Congress to address the delays
and congestion that will be facing our nation's airports this
holiday season and in the days and years to come.
"Just last week, the Inspector General admitted that flight
delays are reaching record levels. It is simply unacceptable to be
experiencing 1.3 million arrival delays in the first nine months of
this year," said NATCA President John Carr. "As delays spin out of
control, the FAA is losing air traffic controllers at alarming
numbers, but is simply not hiring. And unlike some other
professions, you can't just rent a controller. Air traffic
controllers are dedicated, public servants who train for up to five
years to make sure the public gets home safely."
"In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are grateful that Congress
approved this past weekend $9.5 million to help begin the process
of hiring and training of new controllers. That's an important
first step, but we are a long way from dealing with the anticipated
50 percent shortage of controllers," Carr continued. "It is time
for the FAA to stop talking about plans and take action to ensure
that there are enough eyes watching our skies."
"There is no getting around the fact that the FAA needs to hire
and train more controllers. And that means working with the new
Congress to secure the funds necessary to deal with the shortage.
Rumors of band-aid approaches like asking controllers to work
beyond the mandatory retirement age don't seriously address the
long-term problem. We can ensure that our system remains the
safest, most efficient in the world, but the FAA must become more
aggressive in hiring and training new controllers."
NATCA cited a number of
statistics Carr said reveals a very cloudy picture:
- From October 2003 until September 2004, the FAA lost more than
500 controllers, but hired only 13.
- The Federal Aviation Administration and the Government
Accountability Office have stated publicly that the problem is only
going to get worse.
- Last week, the Transportation Department's Inspector General
admitted that flight delays are reaching record levels. There were
1.34 million arrival delays in the first ninth months of this year,
with the average length of the delay reaching almost 52
- Even more alarming, the FAA stated that one of the main reasons
that safety errors increase is the aging controller workforce.
NATCA said the city-by-city forecast is even gloomier with major
airports like Los Angeles, Nashville, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and
Newark already facing controller staffing shortages:
- Nashville Tower,
authorized for 46 controllers, but only 37 are certified and up to
14 controllers are expected to retire by the end of this year. Even
now, there are supposed to be 14 controllers on position on every
shift in the tower, but the facility regularly operates with only
11 controllers and sometimes as few as 7.
- Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control, authorized for 101
controllers, but only 66 are certified.
- Miami Center, where 279 controllers are authorized but only 260
are on hand, and only 219 of these are certified.
- Philadelphia Tower, where 109 controllers are authorized but
only 88 are at the facility, and only 65 of these are fully
- Los Angeles Center, where 309 are authorized and only 219
certified controllers are on hand.
- Newark Tower, where 40 controllers are authorized and there are
only 29 who are certified. Of these, 6 are eligible to retire in
the next five years.
- Cincinnati Tower, where 75 of 78 authorized controllers are
certified, but where 6 will retire before the end of this
- Orlando International Tower, where starting in 2006, six
controllers a year will be eligible to retire. Currently, there is
only one trainee.
- Birmingham Tower, where within five years, half of the current
workforce will be eligible for retirement.
- Dayton Tower, where only 35 of 53 authorized controllers are
- Des Moines Tower, where only 24 of 34 authorized controllers
- Reno Tower, where only 19 of 27 authorized controllers are
certified, and where 4 of these 19 are eligible to retire.
- New Orleans, where at the Moisant Tower, only 32 of 39
authorized controllers are certified, with nine expected to retire
in the next five years.
- Tampa Tower, where 12 controllers out of 69 are eligible to
retire, and there will be an estimated shortage of 75% within the
next six years.
- Chicago Center, where 44 certified professional controllers
have been lost in the last five years and operational errors
increased from an average of 31 per year before the shortage to 71
per year now.
- Las Vegas TRACON, where 56 certified professional controllers
are authorized but only 47 are on hand, with another 6 eligible to
retire in the next year and 15 by 2007.
"Let's make sure that the FAA doesn't receive a "Golden Turkey"
award at this time next year for failing to take this critical
problem seriously. The FAA must step up to the plate and make sure
the flying public has enough highly trained, dedicated public
servants watching our skies," Carr concluded.
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