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Dallas-Fort Worth Radar Approach Controllers Declare a Staffing Emergency - (1/16/2008)

CONTACT:     Doug Church, 202-220-9802; 301-346-8245 (cell) 

DALLAS/FORT WORTH, Texas – Air traffic controllers at the Dallas-Fort Worth Terminal Radar Approach Control (DFW TRACON), faced with a 34 percent drop in the number of fully trained and certified controllers on staff in just two years that has led to a dramatic rise in unsafe incidents, today have declared a staffing emergency and are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation to act immediately to stem the loss of veteran controllers. 

Dallas is the fifth major area of the country where a staffing emergency has been declared. Last week, NATCA highlighted serious staffing and safety concerns in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Southern California. Nationwide, 10 percent of the workforce left in fiscal year 2007 and fiscal year 2008 is on track to be even worse for attrition as a result of the continuing lack of a negotiated and ratified labor agreement. There is no incentive for veteran controllers to stay on the job and in Dallas, as has been the case nationally, the most experienced and seasoned controllers – those training new hires and trying to keep the system from a complete collapse – are leaving to escape poor working conditions marked by extreme stress and fatigue. 

In January 2006, DFW TRACON had 99 fully trained and certified controllers on staff. That number dropped to 80 by January 2007 and today the total stands at 65. Of the current total, more than one-third (23) can retire today. Half (32) will be able to retire by the end of this year. There are 14 trainees on staff. Even if all were to certify by year’s end – an impossibility – it would still put the facility woefully short of a safe staffing level. 

Operational errors – incidents where two planes get closer than FAA rules allow due to a controller mistake – are spiking at DFW TRACON due to the lack of controllers. In fiscal year 2006, there were 45 operational errors. That number rose to 59 in fiscal year 2007. Through the first quarter of the current 2008 fiscal year, there have been 38 errors, which puts the facility on pace for a staggering 152 by the end of September. 

The dramatic staffing shortage has forced the FAA to mandate overtime assignments, leading to a fatigue problem that has been well documented by the NTSB and the General Accountability Office in recent months as one of the most concerning safety issues in the entire aviation system. Just two years ago, DFW TRACON FAA managers spent roughly $100,000 in overtime money in 2006 to cover for staffing shortages. That number is expected to jump to $1.5 million this year. 

“Six-day weeks and 50-hours per week is now the norm for many of these men and women,” DFW TRACON NATCA Facility Representative Steve Bates said. “This is a 24/7 high stress, high pressure job where mistakes can mean lives. Running our employees into exhaustion is not the way to do it.” 

This facility is responsible for airspace in a 35-mile radius of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, including all flights to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Love Field, Addison Airport and nearly two dozen other airports.

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