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NATCA Urges House Appropriations to Include $14 Million in Funding Bill for Hiring New Controllers - (7/13/2004)

WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association today urged House lawmakers about to decide on Federal Aviation Administration funding for fiscal year 2005 to address the looming air traffic control staffing crisis and approve $14 million for the training and hiring of new controllers as a first step toward solving the problem.

In the Senate, a bipartisan group of transportation appropriations committee members have asked their colleagues to give $14 million to FAA to begin the critical hiring process. But the House is expected to take up its own transportation funding bill before the Senate, and NATCA President John Carr says it’s vitally important that House lawmakers earmark $14 million of their own to stave off a problem that is growing worse by the day.

“In the wake of Transportation Secretary Mineta’s call for a tripling of air capacity, we are forced to sit and watch as fewer controllers watch more planes. Fewer eyes watching busier skies is not a scenario any of us want,” Carr stated. “Unless the funds for hiring are appropriated, staff shortages will inevitably lead to serious delays, congestion and, yes, safety concerns. Given that it takes three to five years to train a controller – and not everyone makes the cut – this problem needs to be addressed now.”

While House and Senate Committees consider spending bills, controllers around the country have been discussing what is currently happening at local airports where staffing is already a serious issue:

• In Las Vegas on Monday, NATCA officials said there are only 35 fully trained controllers working at the Las Vegas Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), 21 short of the FAA-authorized total that should be there. Control positions are often combined, creating unnecessary safety risks. The McCarran International Airport control tower could face a shortage of 12 controllers within the next three years.

• In Chicago last week, controllers from three of the country’s busiest facilities that monitor flights in and out of the world’s busiest airport and surrounding congested airspace said 56 percent of the controllers at O’Hare tower could leave within the next five years, while the Chicago TRACON’s net loss of fully trained controllers since 1999 is 17 and it faces a shortage of nearly three dozen more controllers by the end of next year.

• In Philadelphia earlier this month, controllers said the tower and approach control facilities are facing a shortage of more than three dozen controllers over the next five years. Currently, the tower/TRACON is short 20 controllers from FAA guidelines.

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