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Despite Traffic Blitzes At Oshkosh And Appleton Airports, Air Traffic Control Towers Remain Short Staffed - (7/30/1997)

Despite Traffic Blitzes At Oshkosh And Appleton Airports, Air Traffic Control Towers Remain Short Staffed OSHKOSH, WIS. - Almost one million people attending the Oshkosh Air Show this week are flying into two airports within a 15-mile radius of one another. An insufficient number of air traffic controllers are staffing these facilities, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said today. Spectators fly into Oshkosh eager to see various aircraft zigzag the sky, as well as the pilots who will be wowing onlookers with their tricks. Appleton Airport is also heavily used by general aviation traffic and pilots who utilize it as an alternative parking place once Oshkosh becomes filled to capacity. FAA contracted out the Appleton Airport in 1995. It now employs three controllers compared to eight when the facility was FAA operated. In the week prior to last year's event, Appleton tracked 1,510 airport operations. During the show, operations more than doubled to 3,303. Despite the large traffic surge, the same number of air traffic controllers will staff the control tower this year. "This fact in itself is frightening," said NATCA Great Lakes Region Vice President Jim Poole. "Staffing levels, coupled with the fact that contract controllers receive training drastically reduced to the instruction given FAA controllers, give us reason to be concerned." Last week, discussions took place about whether FAA controllers should be brought into the facility during the air show, but the agency decided against this plan. "It said, 'Staffing levels worked last year so why do we need more controllers?'" said Poole. "What FAA doesn't understand is these controllers are under constant stress and will probably work long hours with few or no breaks. This compromises the safety of the flying public." Oshkosh Airport, contracted out in 1996, employs six controllers. Last year, airport operations in the week prior to Oshkosh was 2,479. The week of the event it increased to almost six times that number --14,148 operations. Due to the high volume of aircraft, approximately 45 FAA controllers will be brought in this year to staff the tower. Contract controllers have been told not to report to duty. "The flying public needs to ask, 'Why are FAA controllers hired during the Oshkosh air show only to leave once the event is over?'" said Poole. "What happens when the spotlight is no longer on Oshkosh and the airport reverts to its six contract controllers?" "FAA should be paying closer attention to the safety of the individuals flying in and out of Oshkosh, Appleton and other contract facilities," said Poole.

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