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NATCA Southern California Tracon Local President Condemns Critical Staffing Shortages And - (4/14/1997)

Staffing shortages at air traffic control facilities nationwide are reaching critical proportions. This serious problem is most apparent at Southern California TRACON, the nation's busiest terminal radar approach control facility. Controllers should not be required to work more than two hours at a time on operational control positions due to various fatigue factors. This contractual agreement is spelled out in the bargaining agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. It is recognized controllers are exposed to extremely stressful situations in front of a radar scope and the period of time for this exposure should not exceed two consecutive hours. The following is a statement by NATCA SCT local President Kevin F. McGrath: "In the last 30 days, over 140 incidents of air traffic controllers working more than two, sometimes exceeding three, consecutive hours on position without a break, occurred at Southern California TRACON. This variance from the established standard increases controller fatigue and the likelihood of controller error. When the agency does not comply with its own rules, issues of controller burnout become more evident, the fatigue factor increases the risk of error and lives are put in jeopardy. "For the two-day period of April 4 and 5, five operational (controller) errors were reported.* Three of these incidents appear not to have been adequately investigated and were downgraded as 'non-occurrences,' meaning they were determined not to be operational errors. NATCA believes management is not accurately reporting these occurrences in order to keep the FAA and facility management from looking bad. "Last year, 40 operational errors and deviations were recorded at Southern California TRACON. We attributed the increase in 'close calls' between aircraft to a systematic reduction in work force by the FAA. This personnel reduction is directly responsible for controller fatigue and inadequate staffing of operational positions to accommodate increasing air traffic. "We believe the agency now realizes operational errors create a record of inability to make the system safe. Instead of correcting problems, the FAA has taken a more liberal course in assessing operational errors, with a tendency to downgrade, thereby "eliminating" the problem. "Sweeping the problem under the rug will not make it go away. Unfortunately, this appears to be the recent approach taken by the FAA at Southern California TRACON. As long as this facility continues to operate the busiest airspace in the country with limited resources and critically inadequate staffing, these problems will escalate."

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