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NATCA Holiday Travel Forecast: Delays, Congestion Inevitable Without More Aggressive FAA Action - (11/23/2004)

WASHINGTON – As millions of Americans take to the skies this holiday season, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is calling upon 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 stated. “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 noted that the national holiday travel forecast facts 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 minutes.
• Even more alarming, the FAA stated that one of the main reasons that safety errors increase is the aging controller workforce.

And 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 certified.

• 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 year.

• 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 certified.

• Des Moines Tower, where only 24 of 34 authorized controllers are certified.

• 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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