Air Traffic Control Fact-Sheet
The GAO and other independent organizations have long warned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expect and prepare for a wave of controller retirements as those that were hired in the wake of the PATCO firings become eligible to retire. Rather than proactively address this issue, the Bush Administration took steps to worsen attrition by unilaterally imposing work and pay rules on the air traffic controller workforce on Labor Day 2006. These imposed work rules (IWRs), together with the adverse work environment surrounding them, not only increased the retirement rate beyond anyone’s predictions, but dramatically increased resignations and trainee attrition. The effects of the nation-wide air traffic controller staffing shortage can still be felt throughout the system.
A Nation-Wide Staffing Crisis
- As of March 31, 2009, there were 11,219 fully certified controllers, 27% below the scientifically-based staffing standard jointly authorized by the FAA and NATCA in 1998 and a 16-year low. According to an April 2009 report by the DOT Inspector General, the “FAA faces an increasing risk of not having enough fully certified controllers in its workforce – with 27% of the workforce now in training compared to 15% in 2004.”
- In order to conceal the staffing crisis, the Bush Administration’s FAA unilaterally abandoned the scientifically based standards and arbitrarily reduced the standard by 23%. The DOT Inspector General’s April report states that these vague staffing ranges, have yet to be validated and “therefore cannot ensure they truly represent the facilities’ needs.”
- Since the IWRs were implemented, approximately 4,000 controllers left the frontline of the controller workforce through attrition. Of those that left less than 2% did so because they had reached their mandatory retirement age.
- In FY2008 alone there were 947 retirements, 33% more than the FAA predicted before the IWRs. There were 307 resignations that same year, nearly four times what the FAA had predicted before the IWRs.
- The FAA has lost more than 50,000 years of air traffic control experience since the IWRs
- Trainees make up 27% of the controller workforce, more than many experts consider the safe upper limit, according to the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation.
Deterioration of Safety
- Because of the burden the staffing crises has put on the workforce, controller fatigue has become a serious concern. Both the NTSB and the GAO have identified controller fatigue as a major safety concern.
- At the halfway point of the fiscal year (and before the summer traffic) the FAA is 8% above their own performance targets for serious operational errors (OE).
- Runway incursions and terminal OEs have increased significantly and have also exceeded targets.