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Low Staffing, High OT Causes Spike in Unsafe Incidents in Skies Around World's Busiest Airport - (5/6/2008)

CONTACTS:  Atlanta TRACON Facility Representative, Daniel Ellenberger, (678) 464-7169; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org
 

ATLANTA – The number of incidents when planes have gotten too close has already exceeded last fiscal year’s total at the major radar facility handling flights into and out of the world’s busiest airport – and the situation is getting worse.

Within two years 30 percent of the veteran controller workforce at Atlanta TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) could retire, leaving behind only 46 CPCs (Certified Professional Controllers) when, according to the FAA’s own staffing range – a gross underestimation of what is needed – the facility should have at least 80 to 88 controllers.

There are six veteran controllers at Atlanta TRACON that are currently eligible to retire – in addition to one other that will reach his/her mandatory retirement date on June 1st.  Five more will be eligible by the end of 2008 and eight additional will reach eligibility in 2009.

Said NATCA President Patrick Forrey:  “Atlanta TRACON is yet another example of the FAA’s inability to plan for the future.  Their recklessness towards the safety of the flying public and their morale-breaking treatment of the controller workforce is disturbing – but not at all surprising.  Controllers have been working under imposed work rules for 20 months now, and the FAA has yet to realize or attempt to remedy the devastating effects that this controller attrition has and will play on the safety of the flying public.”

The facility currently has 66 CPCs; not including one who has been out for at least a year on worker’s comp and is not expected back.  A total of eleven have retired since the imposed work rules – all leaving before their mandatory retirement date.

Of the facility’s 23 trainees, 14 have no prior FAA experience and of those 23 trainees, six have not been certified on any positions and eleven have only been certified on one.  The entire staff of veteran controllers is being forced to work mandatory overtime and has been for nearly two years, even though nearly 90 percent have informed the FAA that they do not want overtime.  In the 2007 Fiscal Year alone the FAA spent $1.9 million on overtime at Atlanta TRACON.

Ten of the facility’s new hires have already been training for more than one year and are certified on one position at the most.  Atlanta TRACON has never had a trainee with no prior experience reach full certification – but were it to happen now, based on the current certification rate for those currently in training, it would take three (the best case scenario) to five years (the worst case).

Operational errors (OEs), a mistake resulting in aircraft coming closer to one another than FAA rules allow, are up at the facility. There were 22 OEs in Fiscal Year 2006.  In Fiscal Year 2007 the FAA reclassified operational errors by renaming ‘D’ category OEs proximity events (PEs) – while technically still an operational error this allows the FAA to report that operational errors are down.  Including PEs, there were 29 OEs in Fiscal Year 2007 and 40 so far this year.

“The facility has lost and will continue to lose countless years of experience when these veteran controllers retire and leave behind a novice workforce,” said Atlanta TRACON Facility Representative Daniel Ellenberger.  “In an occupation where experience means everything it’s merely a waiting game for disaster to strike.”


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