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Dallas-Area Air Traffic Control Facilities Continue to Suffer from Shortage of Controllers - (6/27/2007)

CONTACT:     Mike Conely, Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON, 214-415-1660; Rick Loewen, DFW Tower, 817-846-5988; Tim Smith, Fort Worth Center, 817-771-5780; Dale Davis, Dallas Love Field Tower, 817-909-5132 


DALLAS
– A worsening shortage of air traffic controllers at several facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex continues to be a top concern for local representatives of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. They are worried about the effects on controllers’ ability to remain sharp, focused and well-rested as they battle thunderstorms, congestion and a summer travel season that has been marked by headaches and delays thus far. Here is a snapshot look at several facilities’ staffing situation: 

DFW Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)

There are currently 68 fully certified controllers on staff, along with 14 in training, including three with military controller experience. Combined with two controllers currently out on extended medical leave, there are 84 on staff. Controllers believe there should be 117, the number the FAA agreed was needed to safely and efficiently run the facility before the agency arbitrarily replaced it in March with a new “range” of 83 to 101 that was not backed up by any study or proof that it met traffic demands. The understaffing has resulted in increased usage of overtime by FAA management officials to desperately try and fill the positions. From January through mid-August, the FAA is slated to use $444,000 worth of overtime to cover for a lack of staffing. Of the 68 controllers working today, 80 percent now are forced to work OT.

Sometimes, not even overtime has been enough to cover all shifts. In March, the FAA violated federal law by forcing some controllers to work more than 10 hours in one shift – normal shifts last eight hours – and even kept controllers on position for as long as three hours, greatly increasing their fatigue level.

The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. While two trainees are scheduled to be fully certified this year, at least five fully certified controllers will retire, with approximately 10 more retirements in 2008. The other trainees have at least two years of training left 

DFW TOWER

There are 44 fully certified controllers on staff, along with seven trainees. The 51 total is eight short of what the FAA agreed was needed to staff the facility before the agency threw out that number in March and replaced it with a “range” of 47 to 57, without any justification for lowering the number of controllers needed.

The facility expects to welcome 14 new trainees in the next seven months. However, NATCA expects that the tower will lose one fully trained controller to a supervisor position next month in Memphis and as many as six more controllers will retire by January. Additionally, two or three supervisor positions are expected to open up in January, meaning that the FAA will likely pull from the controller ranks to replace those spots. 

FORT WORTH AIR ROUTE TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER

Fort Worth Center currently has 290 fully certified controllers on board, and 65 more in training. There should be 379, according to the level agreed to by the FAA before it reduced that level in March to a “range” of 238 to 290. Those arbitrarily reduced levels are not adequate for the facility, as evidenced by the fact that two of the seven different areas of airspace handled in the facility are currently experiencing staffing problems due to retirements.

As an example, in one of the two short-staffed areas, former staffing numbers based on traffic required 11 controllers. But local FAA managers have had to do away with that number and are routinely staffing 10 positions in the area with seven controllers. This is accomplished by combining sectors of airspace, resulting in controllers forced to work more than one sector at a time. In addition, during recent high traffic periods due to adverse Spring weather, these short-staffed areas have not had controllers available to assist controllers experiencing high workloads when that assistance would allow the sector to remain manageable.

Between now and the end of September, as many as 10 to 15 controllers will either retire or be promoted to supervisor positions left vacant by retirements, further exacerbating the staffing problem. Additionally, the facility was averaging one operational error per week for the past couple of months as a result of fewer controllers looking after more airplanes. 

DALLAS LOVE FIELD TOWER

The tower currently has 18 fully certified controllers on staff, down from a high of 30. There are three new hires on board and two controllers in training that came to the tower from other fully certified positions elsewhere. One prospective job candidate with a military controller background rejected the FAA’s job offer. There is word that perhaps as many as four new trainees may arrive by September. However, the facility has lost four certified controllers to retirement so far this year and a fifth has announced intentions to retire in October. In January, nine more controllers will be eligible to retire.

NATCA believes 24 is the correct amount of controllers needed to safely staff the facility. However, the FAA threw out that number in March and replaced it with a “range” of 19 to 23.


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