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Oakland Center and Northern California Radar Approach Controllers Declare a Staffing Emergency - (1/24/2008)

CONTACTS:     Scott Conde, NATCA Oakland Center, 510-673-0237; Steve Hefley, NATCA Northern California TRACON, 209-612-0760; Doug Church, NATCA National Office, 202-220-9802; 301-346-8245 (cell) 
FREMONT, Calif./SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Air traffic controllers at both the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center, who have seen a large rate of attrition and a rise in unsafe incidents in the skies, 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.
This marks the sixth major area of the country where NATCA has declared a staffing emergency. In the past two weeks, NATCA highlighted serious staffing and safety concerns in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Southern California. Nationwide, 10 percent of the workforce left in fiscal year 2007 and fiscal year 2008 is already shaping up to be even worse for attrition as a result of the continuing lack of a negotiated and ratified labor agreement. Since October, controllers – both veterans and trainees – are leaving at the rate of over six per day, a 41 percent rise in the rate of attrition over a year ago. The net loss of total air traffic control staff has left the country with just 11,077 fully certified and trained controllers, the lowest level in 15 years.
There is no incentive for veteran controllers to stay on the job and in Northern California, 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. Trainees are leaving as well, either through resignations or not successfully completing the demanding training program that lasts from 3-5 years.

There are just 130 veteran, fully trained controllers (called Certified Professional Controllers, or “CPCs” for short) left on staff working air traffic today. While the FAA lists 138, two are on military leave, five cannot work due to medical reasons and one is on personal leave. NATCA believes that 196 is the appropriate safe staffing level for this facility.
Of the 130, 30 are eligible to retire today and can leave at any time. Thus far in fiscal year 2008, there have been five retirements. Ten retired in FY07. There are 21 trainees on staff in various stages of the certification process.
Since October, there have been eight operational errors; instances where planes got closer than FAA rules allow. The facility is on pace for 30 this fiscal year, which would eclipse FY06 (22 operational errors) and FY07 (14). The most recent error occurred on Jan. 10 involving a fully trained controller providing on-the-job training while on overtime. The use of this controller on OT to provide the training was not approved by the facility’s area FAA manager but the CPC was forced to perform the on-the-job-training nonetheless.
NCT is responsible for all airline/commercial/business and general aviation in airspace around Sacramento International Airport, the three major Bay Area airports and 60 other smaller airports.

There have been 23 resignations or training failures at Oakland Center in just the past 10 months, which is indicative of the level of tension, stress and frustration at this key FAA facility. The previous one-year high for resignations at this facility was two (2).

Additionally, Oakland Center had been slated to get an additional 20 trainees this year. However, the FAA has re-designated these assignments to other facilities, leaving ZOA with no new hires.

Oakland Center currently has 164 fully trained and certified controllers on board, and there are 94 trainees on staff, which has made for a ratio of CPC to trainee in excess of the FAA’s stated goal for training. That means the quality of training provided has been degraded. Just three years ago, the national ratio for certified controllers to trainees was over 12-to-1. Today, at ZOA, it is less than 2-to-1.

Total attrition last year was 45. Of those, 20 were fully certified controllers.

Oakland Center is responsible for all airline/commercial/business and general aviation in airspace that includes all of Northern California, northwestern Nevada and southern Oregon, along with 18 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

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