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Griffiss Air Traffic Control Facility Forced to Close on Mid Due to Staffing - (5/4/2007)

CONTACT:    Rick Rutherford, Griffiss RAPCON, 315-380-3760; Kevin Bianchi, Boston Center, 603-930-6906 

ROME, N.Y. – The Federal Aviation Administration radar approach control facility at Griffiss Airfield (RME), a 24-hour air traffic control operation, was forced to close late Wednesday evening and into early Thursday morning due to a controller staffing shortage. The lone controller scheduled to work the overnight "mid" shift was sick and could not report for work, and there was nobody to call on to fill in. FAA managers didn’t use overtime to fill the position because it would have created another staffing problem in the schedule. 

The FAA was forced to transfer control of the local airspace to Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center in Nashua, N.H. There was one serious problem with this plan: The FAA has never trained air traffic controllers at Boston Center on how to work the RME operation and airspace. This facility was in the worst possible position to provide a safe service to aircraft during the hours RME was closed. 

RME handles approximately 7,000 square miles of airspace in upstate New York, extending south approximately to Cooperstown and to the east about halfway to Albany. 

The facility has just seven fully certified air traffic controllers on staff, according to National Air Traffic Controllers Association Facility Representative Rick Rutherford. Three trainees have joined the staff recently, but are not able to work until they are fully certified, which can take one year or longer. The FAA for many years agreed to staff the facility with 12 controllers, which NATCA believes is still the proper amount needed to ensure a safe and effective operation.  

However, as part of a wholesale reduction in staffing standards nationwide in March to reflect the reality of a staffing crisis, the FAA announced that RME’s new staffing “range” should be 7-9 controllers, a woefully inadequate number according to NATCA that is not based on any solid facts or research and is simply staffing to budget. 

“The fact that this facility had to close because we only have seven fully certified controllers working there and there is no room to allow for normal workplace events, such as employees getting sick, proves that the FAA cannot overcome its staffing problems and it is putting unacceptable and unsafe strains on the system,” said NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello. “Giving Griffiss’ airspace to a facility that is not trained to handle it exacerbated this problem and compromised safety.”

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