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Controllers Urge Congress to Address Staffing Crisis - (4/21/2004)

WASHINGTON - The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is urging the Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee to discuss with FAA Administrator Marion Blakey the looming air traffic control staffing crisis when she testifies before the Committee on Thursday.

Both the General Accounting Office and the Department of Transportation's Inspector General are forecasting major staffing shortages even as Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has called for tripling air capacity. The FAA itself anticipates a shortage of up to 50 percent in the next ten years. This is of particular concern because it takes up to five years to train a controller for this highly skilled job and not every candidate makes the cut.

The GAO has warned that a lack of experienced controllers could require the FAA to ask the airlines to reduce their schedules.

"We need to start training 1,000 new controllers each year to meet demand, but there is not a plan in place or funding to make this happen," NATCA President John Carr said. "Air traffic controllers are dedicated public servants whose only mission is protecting the safety of the flying public. We take this mission and the training it involves seriously, working harder and longer than our European counterparts. We are proud that we have the safest and most efficient skies in the world. The FAA and Congress must work with us to ensure that there is a staffing plan in place to ensure safety is preserved."

On March 17, Blakey told the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, "We do believe that at some point you are going to have to begin overlapping your workforce so that the new controllers have opportunity to be trained - both in terms of academic training as well as on-the-job."

"That 'some point' is right now," Carr said. "We are already seeing problems with understaffing at many facilities, including some of the largest and busiest in the system and the problem is getting worse every day."

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