Fewer fully trained controllers on the job now than any point in last 30 years

WASHINGTON – Because of the federal government shutdown, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has closed its training academy in Oklahoma City where new air traffic controller hires go to begin their careers. In addition, classroom and simulator training at air traffic control facilities also is suspended during this shutdown. Along with 3,000 other aviation safety professionals represented by NATCA, many new hires who have recently graduated from the academy and begun working at their first air traffic control facility are furloughed, their critical training halted along with their pay.

Although classes at the academy are currently being delayed, soon they could be canceled, which would lead to fewer new hires by the FAA in fiscal year 2019. Stopping the hiring and training pipeline will exacerbate the current controller staffing crisis. The number of fully certified controllers has fallen more than 10 percent in just the past six years and is now at a 30-year low. Furthermore, nearly one in five of these controllers are eligible to retire (18 percent).

“This staffing crisis is negatively affecting the National Airspace System, and the shutdown almost certainly will make a bad situation worse,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said. “Even before the shutdown, controllers have needed to work longer and harder to make up for the staffing shortfall. Overtime in the form of six-day weeks and 10-hour days is common at many of the nation’s busiest and most short-staffed facilities including radar facilities in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas. And none of the controllers forced to work during this shutdown will see pay for their hard work to keep travelers safe until the shutdown ends. This shutdown must end now.”

Rinaldi continued, “If the staffing shortage gets worse, we will see reduced capacity in the National Airspace System, meaning more flight delays. A lack of adequate staffing also hurts the FAA’s ability to develop new technology and modernize the system, and controllers also don’t get the amount of time they need for training.”

The latest staffing data from the FAA shows the Agency has not made up for the sequester hiring freeze and subsequent shutdown in 2013 but plans to hire over 1,400 new air traffic controller trainees in fiscal year 2019. The closure of the training academy due to the shutdown complicates that plan. Even when the shutdown ends, it will take 1-2 weeks to recall all employees and instructors. This shutdown will cause a ripple effect, delaying all training courses throughout 2019.

Hiring one new trainee for every controller who retires doesn’t keep up with attrition. Only 64 percent of Oklahoma City academy new hires have successfully completed the initial classroom training program. That said, those who clear the academy have helped the FAA increase the number of ATC trainees at air traffic facilities each of the last four years. Although there has been more hiring and a larger number of trainees, we haven’t seen enough of those developmental stage trainees successfully complete training to be air traffic controllers, and the number of fully certified controllers has continued to drop during that span. Because of these continuing FAA challenges with training, the FAA has not been able to resolve the staffing crisis. This shutdown will make that situation worse.

MORE INFORMATION: Doug Church, Deputy Director of Public Affairs; 301-346-8245, dchurch@natcadc.org.

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is a labor union and aviation safety organization in the United States that represents nearly 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers, and other aviation safety-related professionals. NATCA was certified in 1987 by the Federal Labor Relations Authority to be the exclusive bargaining representative for air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Today, NATCA is one of the strongest labor unions in the federal sector and represents a range of aviation safety professionals in 15 FAA bargaining units, 4 Department of Defense air traffic facilities, and 102 federal contract towers. These air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals make vital contributions to the U.S. economy and make modern life possible by coordinating the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of nearly one billion aviation passengers and millions of tons of freight within the National Airspace System each year. NATCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.