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More Than Half of New Hires at Major Miami Radar Center Have Received No Training at All - (1/28/2008)

CONTACT:     Steve Wallace, NATCA Miami Center, 954-401-1348

MIAMI – Six out of every 10 new hires at Miami Center, South Florida's largest Federal Aviation Administration facility, are not receiving adequate preparation for their future air traffic controller jobs because of a worsening controller staffing crisis that has left the FAA without enough fully certified controllers to train them. That has led to an unprecedented number of new hires quitting the FAA and creating new and devastating consequences for the FAA's last remaining hope of keeping the system together. 

Instead of the FAA recognizing and planning for the expected exodus of experienced controllers in Miami -- worsened by the forced imposition of draconian work rules 16 months ago, as well as a 30 percent pay cut for new hires – the agency instead poured large numbers of trainees into the facility to try and fix the problem of staffing that has affected the safety and efficiency of air travel both in South Florida and nationwide. But that has made the problem worse by massively degrading the level of training that is essential for preparing the next generation of controllers for perhaps the most challenging period of air traffic control in the nation's aviation history.  

FAA policy regarding an effective training environment mandates that trainees should make up no more than 30 percent of the controller staff at an en route center. But at Miami Center, the nation's eighth busiest en route center (the largest of the FAA’s facilities that mostly handle flights between airports), there are 102 trainees, comprising 34 percent of the staffing total of 299. Sixty percent of the trainees have no functional training. These 62 developmental controllers have been forced to wait up to 16 months after their first day on the job to receive any real training. Students have reported that their training materials and books are outdated and incomplete and have been told by management to obtain the current information themselves. 

Because the 197 veteran controllers at the facility are overburdened with training, not to mention guiding the flying public safely home, students have reported that they were either never assigned a mentor or their mentor was not able to meet with them even though the training guide states that each student will be provided with a mentor.  

"A center's safety record is based upon the experience that air traffic controllers bring with them to the scopes every time they plug in," said Steve Wallace, NATCA's Miami Center facility representative. "Miami Center's staff of veteran air traffic controllers is rapidly dwindling due to poor working conditions caused by the agency's imposed work rules and the new training environment at Miami Center. Three veteran controllers retired on January 3 and three more are expected to retire by the beginning of February – a preview of what could be an even bigger year for veteran controllers retiring to escape the FAA's ever-tightening stronghold."

Since July 2007, 11 trainees have resigned. "This is unprecedented and absolutely unheard of," says veteran controller Tom Adcock, NATCA's assistant facility representative.

Ex-trainee Shesly J. Gonzalez, in a resignation letter dated Oct. 9, 2007, addresses the shoddy working conditions for trainees and veteran controllers, writing, "I have never felt so small and insignificant as I have been made to feel by the FAA. There is a growing tension in Miami Center that can be felt upon entering the control room. The staffing crisis has reached a point that forces fully certified controllers to work 10-hour days, six days a week. The controllers are exhausted, causing morale to be low and making it a very negative atmosphere to work in, not to mention the adverse implications that this has on safety."

Wallace sums up the rapidly deteriorating situation: "Due to the anticipated need for more air traffic controllers, Miami Center management altered the training plan for developmental air traffic controllers in hopes of progressing them faster through the various stages of training. While this is a welcome thought, the process by which they are attempting to accomplish this diminishes the integrity of the system and puts the individual at risk as well as the flying public. In essence, Miami Center management is jeopardizing our safety record at the expense of the individuals that have been hired to keep our ATC system running."

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