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FAA Reneges on Deal to Properly Staff Atlanta Tower - (12/20/2005)

CONTACT: Rick Wilson, Atlanta, 678-523-0035

ATLANTA – The Federal Aviation Administration has reneged on a deal with air traffic controllers that aimed to ensure the country’s busiest control tower, at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, is properly and safely staffed. The FAA’s change in course means that Atlanta Tower is forced to continue operating with 10 fewer controllers than is mandated by the deal and the FAA won’t be able to staff two proposed positions in the tower designed to ensure safe runway crossings, despite the opening of a new fifth runway next May and a spate of recent runway incidents across the country.

In 2004, the FAA split Atlanta Tower and the Atlanta Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility in Peachtree City, Ga., into two separate facilities. Before the split, controllers worked at both facilities on a rotating basis. Afterwards, they were assigned to either the tower or TRACON. When the split occurred, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association agreed with the FAA on a staffing number of 48 controllers for the tower, to take effect with the opening of the new runway and a new control tower. But the FAA has now told NATCA that the 38 controllers currently in the tower are sufficient, even as traffic increases and the new runway opening looms.

“The FAA tore up the deal. Why, we don't know, but the ramifications of this reckless decision will extend into the ability of the remaining controllers in the tower to safely guide an increasing amount of complex traffic – using an additional fifth runway – with fewer eyes,” said NATCA President John Carr. “Staffing continues to be the FAA’s biggest problem. The agency has no answer for the current problem except to deny it exists and promise that new hires are on the way. But while we all wait for their arrival, the margin of safety in the system is shrinking as fewer controllers work more traffic.”

The FAA recently requested that Atlanta Tower add four new positions in conjunction with the new runway; two runway crossing coordinators, a new ground control position and a new local control position. But because of the short-staffing situation affecting the tower, it is unlikely the FAA will have enough controllers to open either of the runway crossing coordinator positions.

“These are safety-related positions because of all the active runway crossings we will have to do with the new runway,” Atlanta Tower NATCA Facility Representative Rick Wilson said. “With the emphasis on runway incursions from the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board and Congress, these should be the last positions the agency should do away with. The FAA has left itself short once again.”

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