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"Safety in Numbers" - New NATCA Online Feature Explores Severity of Staffing Crisis, Proposes Solutions - (12/22/2004)

WASHINGTON - During a year in which the Federal Aviation Administration lost more than 500 air traffic controllers and hired just 13, air travel has continued to grow to a point where 15 of the nation's 35 largest airports are now at pre-Sept. 11, 2001 traffic volume levels. Doing more with less continues to emerge as a dangerous theme for the U.S. air traffic control system.

The controller staffing crisis is a dangerous threat to the efficiency and safety of the system. To examine the issue more closely, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has just released an interactive feature on its web site entitled, "Safety In Numbers: How Many Air Traffic Controllers Do You Want Watching Our Skies."

The presentation takes a comprehensive look at the issue, from background to statistics. Over the next eight years, the FAA anticipates a 50 percent shortage in controllers. Yet, the U.S. Transportation Secretary wants to triple the capacity of the system. But it is apparent in NATCA's study of the staffing issue in this presentation that expansion is the least of the country's concerns if the staffing shortage grows worse without replacements hired and trained in time.

"Funding equals safety and reduced funding equals reduced safety. It's as simple as that," NATCA President John Carr said. "What we're trying to show with this new online feature is the severity of the problem. The money appropriated by Congress earlier this month for the hiring and training of about 200 new controllers next year is a good start. But we need considerably more resources if FAA is to address the serious staffing crisis facing our nation. We need the FAA and new Congress to work with us in 2005 to make sure that we have enough highly trained, qualified controllers watching our skies today and in the future."

In "Safety In Numbers," NATCA proposes three solutions to the staffing problem:

. TRANSFERS: Allow experienced controllers to transfer to higher-level facilities to make room for trainees at low-volume facilities. Controllers transferring from other FAA facilities certify in half the time needed to certify trainees from other sources. By allowing seasoned controllers to move to facilities with identified vacancies - it makes room for trainees to receive on-the-job training at lower-volume facilities.

. FUNDING: Provide sufficient funding so new controllers may be brought into the system, allowing known vacancies to be filled while plans are developed to identify future vacancies.

. ELIGIBILITY: Increase the length of time a graduate from one of the FAA identified College Training Initiative (CTI) schools can remain eligible for hire as a controller. Under the current CTI program, eligibility expires after two years.

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