Transformed Training Improves Staffing at SCT
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Improved training methods and increased collaboration between FAA stakeholders, including NATCA, have reduced trainee backlogs at the world's busiest TRACON facility, leading to more certifications and quicker qualification times for assigned air traffic controllers.

The FAA last year certified 24 employees at Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control in San Diego, Calif., known by its facility identifier as SCT. This was more than double the fiscal-year target of 10 certifications.

In addition, the initial data shows a 10 percent improvement within three years in the average days to certify, a key metric for the agency, said D. Shawn Clark, vice president for ATO Technical Training, which oversees the national controller development program.

While days-to-certify may vary by type of facility, air traffic complexity and other factors, the ATO sets a goal of two years for controllers at terminal facilities. Data from the agency's National Training Database shows the fiscal 2010 average days to certification at SCT was 593 days, compared to 649 days in fiscal 2008.

At the same time, 90 percent of SCT developmental controllers are progressing through on-the-job training on schedule, significantly better than the 73 percent average at other Level 12 combined TRACONs.

"When you consider the challenges of running the complex and critical operation SCT faces every day and balancing that with their training demands, this improvement is a Herculean success," Clark said. "This involved a lot of dedication, collaboration, team work and effort from our Southern California employees, Terminal Services leadership, the Technical Training staff and the FAA Academy team."

"NATCA and the FAA at SCT are collectively working together to ensure the safest training environment for OJTIs and developmentals," added NATCA SCT Fac Rep Ron Geyer. "The parties' locally operate on a signed agreement that identifies a process which better prepares developmentals for live air traffic training with the help of NATCA Training Representatives. OJTIs on the operations floor deserve the best prepared developmentals. NATCA is here to help."

Training at Southern California TRACON has undergone quite a transformation in the last three years, according to Kevin Karpe, SCT Performance and Strategic Analysis manager. Controllers used to have years of air traffic experience before they transferred to SCT, so the training program was designed for employees who had already mastered a certain skill level. But in anticipation of the surge in controller retirement, the facility began accepting employees with no previous air traffic experience.

"We had to change our basic philosophy to accommodate differences in experience levels," Karpe said, adding that those differences and the generation gap are key to how the FAA delivers training, how trainees receive instruction, and — most importantly — how management supports employees in their educational, operational and personal goals. There are nearly 90 employees in various stages of qualification training today, and another 45 will join the SCT team this year. In response to the training load, the facility has found more efficient ways to manage training.

SCT recently expanded its simulation, taking advantage of a pair of spare scopes, Karpe said. The facility also developed a schedule program for its simulation laboratory andassigns specific simulation positions to developmental controllers and instructors, increasing the effectiveness of simulator usage.

The facility also looked to volunteers from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to augment training that was conducted under a contract program, helping to meet the high training demand.

"SCT has created a supportive atmosphere for employees and developed a collaborative relationship with NATCA," Karpe said. "We have not had any problem attracting people to work here from all over the country, and our success comes from the hard work that our employees put in to training, day in and day out."

"The number of controllers we've been able to certify has been truly amazing," said SCT Training Support Manager Quentin Miles, adding "collaboration has been the key to our success."