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More Controllers, Better Training, Adequate Funding Are Musts! - (6/12/1997)

More controllers, better training, adequate funding are musts! WASHINGTON, D.C. - The leading advocate for air traffic controllers today offered solutions to a 3,000 controller shortage nationwide, inadequate training of new hires and lack of funding before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. "Aviation safety is coming at the expense of the nation's air traffic controllers," National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Barry Krasner said today. "I wish this were the first time we've been before the U.S. Congress, administration and FAA pointing out the air traffic control system is stretched to the limit." The Senate hearing was prompted by the recent spotlight on New York staffing problems, where facilities have had a dangerously low number of air traffic controllers. However, the Federal Aviation Administration now agrees it will increase the number of controllers to 294 by October 1997 and 339 by October 1998. "This is a sign of progress," Krasner told the subcommittee, adding, "But the real work ahead lies in training of new hires and retention of the existing work force. Remember, New York is only one example of a coast-to-coast staffing crisis in air traffic control. If we can find solutions to New York, we can offer them to other air traffic facilities." NATCA solutions proposed for New York include a combination of local hire and apprentice programs. Instead of recruiting employees from outside the area whose primary goal is relocation, the FAA could accept trainees from New York who want to remain. "If this policy works in San Juan, it will work in New York and in other high cost, chronically understaffed areas," Krasner said. New recruits would first work on data control positions, where they would assist controllers by writing strips about the flight progress one each aircraft, provide clearance delivery or input data into the computer about airplanes' positions, altitude changes and other information. "By the time they complete an apprenticeship, they will understand the workplace, the pace and demands. This will help ensure successful completion of training to a full performance level in an environment now claiming a minimum failure rate of 20 percent," Krasner said. "Controllers are already stretched to maximum productivity and workloads. Consider how fewer controllers today handle 36 percent more aircraft than in 1981. They push the limits every day, handling millions of flights daily. Yet, the number of controllers lags far behind the growth in air traffic volume. Incredibly, we run the safest, most comprehensive air traffic system in the world," Krasner said. Congress must authorize and actually provide funds for additional controllers, training and equipment, NATCA told the Senate bcommittee on Transportation Appropriations. "The FAA can write numbers in the staffing line item all day - but until Congress approves funding, it can't happen," Kranser said. Copies of the full testimony are available from NATCA upon request. NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION MEBA/AFL-CIO

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