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Understaffing Cited as Contributory Factor To Operational Error in Report - (7/23/2008)

CONTACTS: Kansas City Facility Representative Kevin Peterson, 816-294-5519; Central Region Vice President Howard Blankenship, 913-638-5030; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org

KANSAS CITY – An operational error review board at the Kansas City International Airport Tower has cited, in its report to the facility’s FAA manager, the failure to adequately staff positions in the terminal radar approach control room (TRACON) as a factor in an operational error that occurred on May 23, 2008. An operational error occurs when two aircraft get closer than the FAA’s minimum separation standards allow.

According to the report, the traffic complexity was increased due to strong east winds which required controllers to use a different runway that they were not as proficient with – that combined with the amount of traffic, and their inability to split positions due to understaffing, contributed to the operational error. The controller working the two aircraft involved in the operational error was also assisting other control positions by absorbing some of their traffic.

Currently, the tower is staffed with 25 fully qualified controllers – 31 percent below the minimum amount of controllers the FAA says it currently wants. While there are nine trainees, of whom only some are qualified to work independently on a few positions, staffing still falls short of the FAA’s own Air Traffic Control Workforce Plan which calls for a range of 36 to 44 controllers.

A little more than halfway into 2008 the facility has already met last year’s total for operational errors with four. Kansas City Facility Representative Kevin Peterson isn’t surprised by the rise in mistakes. “You can’t keep working tired people for a long period of time with only short breaks to tide them over and not expect mistakes to increase. Controllers are working control positions combined because staffing does not allow another one to open. It’s the equivalent of trying to make it to the gas station with the tank on empty. We’re just hoping we make it there before the car runs out of gas”, said Peterson.


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