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Why the FAA's Orlando Plan is Unsafe, Controllers, Pilots Stage Protest - (1/26/2009)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS:  NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-997-7741, acaldwell@natcadc.org

Orlando – Starting today at Orlando International Airport air traffic controllers are protesting against an ill-advised FAA plan that separated the tower and radar approach control jobs for Orlando air traffic controllers – a move made in the eleventh hour, only two days before the 111th Congress was sworn in.  The demonstration will end on Friday, January 30. 

Because the FAA chose to ignore the pleas and proposed alternate plans from air traffic controllers and a bipartisan Congressional Florida delegation, air traffic controllers and pilots are protesting at Orlando International – hoping that public outcry will spur the FAA to reverse its plan  and give all stakeholders – pilots and controllers – a voice in the process.

Listed are the concerns originally raised by both the air traffic controller workforce and Congress regarding the FAA’s unsafe plan for Orlando including concerns regarding experience and staffing levels in the newly reorganized tower:

Staffing

  • The FAA’s reason for splitting the facility is based on a staffing crisis that it created when it imposed work rules on the controller workforce, setting into motion a record wave of controller attrition.  As a result of this the remaining staff of controllers at Orlando worked overtime to make up for the decrease in staff.
  • By splitting the facility the FAA was able to create two artificially well-staffed facilities overnight by lowering the training requirements – by means of reducing the number of positions a trainee needs to certify on.  Though this renders these trainees fully certified it is a level that does not conform to Department of Transportation Inspector General’s recommendations.  It also places too many inexperienced controllers in the tower.
  • Now after the split, nearly 60 percent of the controllers working in the tower have less than five years of experience, with the more experienced controllers are working the new Terminal Radar Approach Control facility (TRACON).
  • When it was combined the operation allowed for flexibility in staffing.  Once separated that flexibility was lost, forcing each of the new facilities to maintain a higher level of staffing in order to ensure uninterrupted service, failing to resolve the overtime issue the FAA sought to fix with this deconsolidation in the first place.

Coordination and Experience

  • In a combined facility controllers must learn all aspects of operations in both the tower and radar room.  This allows them a better understanding of how their actions at a position in the tower affect the radar room and vice versa.  This symbiotic relationship between the two areas created a safer and more efficient operation.  Now new trainees will be denied the opportunity to train on all positions of the operation.


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