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Veteran Controllers Leaving Washington Center in High Numbers; New Hires Have to Moonlight at Second Jobs to Make Ends Meet - (5/24/2007)

CONTACT:     Rich Santa, Washington Center NATCA Facility Rep., 240-291-1266 

LEESBURG, Va. – By this time next month, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center will have lost 36 veteran air traffic controllers this year. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration has brought in 19 new hires that are struggling so badly in pricey Northern Virginia – due to a 30 percent pay cut imposed on all new hires nationwide last year – that several are having to moonlight at jobs with Home Depot, T.G.I. Friday’s and a local bar and restaurant to make ends meet and pay off mountains of student loan debt. 

Of the 36 veteran losses, 28 are due to retirements or resignations. Additionally, eight controllers were taken from the controller ranks and made into FAA supervisors at the facility, which only serves to hurt the controller staffing levels but keeps FAA management ranks full and flourishing. Because of the pay freeze imposed by FAA on veteran controllers against their will last year, becoming a supervisor is the only way for these controllers to ever see another raise and is also the best way to get highly sought-after days off from the grueling stress of the job.  

Front-line controllers living under the iron-fisted rule of FAA management are routinely having vacation time severely curtailed and strictly regimented due to the staffing shortage. This has led to increased fatigue, which the National Transportation Safety Board reported last month was a serious safety concern. “Working a second job is making this fatigue problem worse,” said National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Patrick Forrey. “These new hires need to be fully rested to survive the grueling training process, not forced to wait tables.” 

Added Forrey: “The hole the FAA has dug for itself by arriving three years too late in trying to address this staffing problem grows deeper by the day. Throwing these new hires into some of the most unbelievably stressful and challenging controller jobs in the world is unfair to them and unsafe for the flying public.” 

The average time it takes to become a fully certified controller at Washington Center is close to four years. That’s a year longer than most other en route centers nationwide. 

Staffing is so tight that the FAA cannot even get enough people to work overtime to fill all positions on shifts.  Controllers are already being routinely kept on position for longer periods and being stretched to their mental and physical limits.  “Everybody is pretty much tapped out,” NATCA Washington Center Facility Representative Rich Santa said. 

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