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FAA Creates an Instant Staffing Problem with Unwise Split of Memphis Tower/Radar Facility - (6/19/2009)

CONTACT:  Victor Santore, NATCA Southern Regional Vice President, 516-398-6572     

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Federal Aviation Administration’s highly controversial rush to split the tower and radar control functions at Memphis International Airport last week has created an immediate staffing shortage. The FAA is now seeking to fill six new controller positions at the Memphis TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control). The agency’s official vacancy announcement – which was posted three days after the split – can be found here:


NATCA believes the staffing shortage is further proof why the FAA’s realignment of the facility – a precursor to closing much needed radar facilities across the Mid and Deep South regions and moving those operations to Memphis – was both unwise and unnecessary.   

The move also justifies the concern of over 150 members of Congress nationwide who have registered their opposition to the FAA’s realignment agenda until there is a common sense approach in place; namely a review procedure that compels the FAA to subject all current realignment efforts to a much needed layer of oversight, accountability and transparency. The House FAA Reauthorization bill, passed last month, does just that. NATCA is supporting passage of a final FAA bill this year.   

“We look forward to briefing (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt on the folly of splitting the air traffic control functions at Memphis and to assist him in returning accountability to the FAA,” said NATCA Southern Regional Vice President Victor Santore. “NATCA continues to offer to work on realignment issues with the FAA once a legitimate process is adopted. Through true collaboration, taxpayer dollars could be saved without compromising safety.”   

The split of Memphis’ facility also has ramifications for the efficiency of the airport’s operations. It takes a certain amount of controllers in order for the FAA to safely run simultaneous instrument landing system approaches into the airport for the big daily Federal Express inbound push. But the staffing is now so strained in the TRACON that even one controller who is sick and can’t work means the FAA has to wastefully spend money on overtime to bring in relief help. Additionally, in an episode last Thursday, short staffing forced local management to use two supervisors to work traffic instead of experienced front-line controllers.              

Similar problems are occurring at Orlando International Airport, where the FAA rushed to split the tower and functions in January, using an admitted crisis of short staffing to justify the action. The FAA claimed the split would improve efficiency and reduce training times. However, Orlando radar controllers are still working six-day work weeks and 10-hour days – spending thousands of taxpayer dollars in overtime – with little if any improvement in sight.

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