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FAA'S Knack for Fuzzy Math Jeopardizes Safety: Request for New Controllers Comes Up Embarrassingly Shy of Agency's Goal - (2/7/2005)

WASHINGTON – Just 48 days after telling Congress in a much anticipated report that it planned to hire 1,249 air traffic controllers in fiscal year 2006 to begin a decade-long commitment to addressing a looming staffing crisis, the Federal Aviation Administration's budget request today called for only 595 new hires next fiscal year, breaking its promise to the American public that it will adequately protect air safety.

"This budget goes beyond playing with smoke and mirrors, it's playing with fire," said National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr.

The FAA also revealed that there are only 14,934 controllers in the system today, down from 15,613 just a year ago, providing the clearest proof yet, controllers say, that not only is the staffing crisis worsening, but the agency's plan to replace an aging workforce is too little and too late.

"I've heard of 'Desperate Housewives,' but this budget reads like 'Desperate Administration,'" Carr said. "Woefully inadequate doesn't even begin to describe this latest bait and switch from an agency that seems unwilling to acknowledge that Congress and the flying public are demanding more attention to the safety of our National Airspace System. This is a race to the bottom for safety and efficiency and it's unacceptable."

Carr added, "When it comes to safety, the numbers have to add up. Unfortunately for travelers, the FAA seems to have failed Math 101.”

The agency's budget request is in stark contrast to its Dec. 21 "Air Traffic Controller Workforce Plan: A Plan for the Future," wherein the FAA laid out a detailed plan to hire 12,500 controllers over the next 10 years to offset a loss of 73 percent of the controller workforce. Defying its own pledge to hire more controllers than it loses, the agency will suffer a three-year net loss of nearly 800 controllers by next fiscal year. Worse, 20 percent of all controllers will be eligible to retire by October 2006.

But, Carr said, "The only thing the agency seems to be planning for is increased congestion and delays and that, unfortunately, is what travelers should plan for as well. Transportation Secretary Mineta just 10 days ago said that 17 of the busiest 35 airports in the country are back to pre-Sept. 11, 2001 traffic levels, including seven of the top 10. And DOT also announced that delays were up. So we know the increased demand for air travel is real. And yet, the FAA will not even live up to its own word to adequately staff the system. It's fuzzy math, taken to the extreme."

Concluded Carr: "The FAA must work with the White House and Congress to make staffing a priority. We thought the agency was off to a good start in December with its staffing report. This budget request shows that commitment to be one step forward and two steps back."

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