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Half of the Veteran Controller Workforce at Tampa Tower is Now Eligible to Retire - (4/21/2008)

CONTACT:  Tampa Facility Representative Mark Kerr, (813) 340-9795; Alexandra Caldwell, (202)-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org

TAMPA, Fla. – Half of the air traffic controllers in the tower at Tampa International Airport are eligible to retire today.

Far exceeding the FAA’s recommended staffing ratio of one trainee to every three Certified Professional Controllers (CPCs), Tampa tower will be operating with over 20 developmentals and only 43 CPCs as of May 1st when two more CPCs retire.  There are far too many trainees in most facilities for them to be able to move through the training process effectively and efficiently.  The training process has been degraded by the FAA in order to compensate for the mass exodus of veteran controller retirements taking place across the country, Tampa included.

The facility has recently had two operational errors that involved newly certified controllers.  In one a controller had only been certified on position for five months and the operational error occurred during a period of high traffic, a complex situation the new controller hadn’t seen during training.  The other occurred when a controller was working on a position for only the second time since he had been certified.  A major runway closure created an operational configuration at the sector that is very rare and had not been seen by the controller during his training – whether or not the controller should have been allowed to work in such a rare configuration in the first place is questionable.  Even the slightest amount of oversight by one of the supervisors on duty would have prevented the operational error.

There have been several other situations in which trainees, working positions they were recently certified on, have gotten into dangerous situations and had to rely on the help from more experienced controllers to get out of trouble.  “People don’t understand what a time bomb we’re sitting on at Tampa tower.  It is widely understood that the point of certification is the point at which a controller is most vulnerable.  There is absolutely no substitute for experience,” said Tampa Facility Representative Mark Kerr.

Prior to the FAA’s imposed work rules implemented in 2006 there were 70 CPCs at Tampa tower, of the large number of veteran retirements since then only one has been mandatory – the rest leaving prematurely.  By May 1st, when the next two veteran controllers retire, the facility will be operating with 43 CPCs (three of which are medically decertified) and 23 trainees.  With the exception of four transfers from other facilities, only three of these new hires have begun training in radar – a process expected to take at least two years to complete.  The rest are still training in the tower or waiting to go back to the Oklahoma City training academy for radar class and are at least two and a half to four years away from certification.

In addition to the overload of getting 16 more new hires in the next 12 months, 22 of the facility’s current 43 CPCs are eligible to retire now and could leave at anytime.  The remaining 21 will be eligible within the next six years.

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