FAA Air Traffic Controller Numbers At 15 Year Low

It's official, the total number of national Air Traffic Controllers is at a 15 year low according to a report from the NATCA. The year 2007 has seen a record number of Air Traffic Controllers retire resulting in a shortage 33% higher than that projected by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The shortage is not only having an overall effect on staffing, but is also impacting on new recruits, many of whom have no air traffic control experience, and are unable to receive an efficient and effective training program. Currently, there are 3618 trainees in the system. Approximately one third of the trainees are not certified on any position and cannot work alone. Many of the facilities have more trainees on staff, than there are resources to train them. For example Miami Centre has 102 trainees, comprising 34 per cent of total staffing. Sixty Two of these trainees have had no functional training and the backlog resulting in a waiting period of up to 16 months for any real training. Because of these conditions 9 trainees have quit this year.

The number of retirees represented 7.4% of the total air traffic control workforce. A grand total of 856 (16 0f which were mandatory) retirements in the fiscal year 2007. This being the forth straight year the FAA has come up short in their predictions.

The NATCA says it's no surprise, they predicted a surge of Air Traffic Controller retirements in response to the FAA's imposition of work rules and pay cuts on September 3, 2006. It is also reported that Air Traffic Controllers have been without a contract for a period of now well over 430 days. Research of this topic suggests it was only in September 2006, the FAA commenced a drive to cut the number of Air Traffic Controllers nationally by 10 percent below negotiated levels. Now 14 months later controller numbers are at situation critical.

And things are only getting worse. There has been an increase in the use of mandatory overtime, combined radar and tower control positions resulting in exhausted, over stressed and burnt out controllers.

"This is a problem entirely of the FAA making. It didn't have to happen. We do not have a contract and that is taking a very serious toll on the controller workforce and the nation’s aviation system."

NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. "Only once in our nation’s history have we seen conditions in our air traffic control facilities that are as acrimonious, overworked, overstressed, demoralized and angry as we do today and that was in the period leading up to the 1981 PATCO strike. There is only one possible solution to this crisis: We must have a contract. Veteran controllers must have an incentive not to retire early at age 50 or before and to use the six-plus years of service they have left before mandatory retirement to keep the system running today and train tomorrow's controllers without being burned out and driven to total exhaustion".

In addition to the 856 retirements of air traffic controllers there were 201 resignations, 126 removals, 10 deaths and an amazing 365 promotions to FAA supervisory roles (double the FAA predictions). With no contract and the FAA work rules and pay bands in place, taking a supervisory position is the only way a fully certified air traffic controller can earn a pay rise, receive cash bonuses and avoid mandatory overtime.

NOTE: In Australia, combining Radar and Tower air traffic control positions is not only unheard of, but would be considered unsafe to do so by any reasonable standards.