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Increasing Staffing Problems Plague Central Florida Air Traffic Control Facilities as Spring Break Season Begins - (3/12/2008)

CONTACT:     Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, 202-997-7741 (cell), acaldwell@natcadc.org 

ORLANDO, Fla. – As the spring tourism season gets into high gear with Spring Break, air traffic controllers at Orlando International Tower are increasingly concerned about safety in the wake of a continuing depletion of their experienced controller ranks that could, by year’s end, leave them with nearly twice as many trainees on staff as fully certified controllers.  

Likewise, other air traffic control facilities in Central Florida, as is the case across the country, have suffered from a wave of attrition over the past year and a half since the FAA imposed work and pay rules that have decimated the controller ranks and destroyed morale. Each time a veteran controller retires, 20-plus years of experience walks out the door. Those Orlando-area controllers left behind are sure to receive the brunt of the busy air traffic volume that is clogging up the skies and leading to higher fatigue levels. 

Nationwide, more than 2,200 controllers and trainees left their jobs between Oct. 1, 2006 and Jan. 5, 2008; roughly one out of every seven. Below is a look at the situation at the three Orlando-area air traffic control facilities: 

ORLANDO TOWER (MCO) 

  • There are currently only 40 fully certified controllers on staff, with a staggering, 33 trainees on board. The FAA has stated that 22 more trainees are expected to arrive by the end of the year. Seven of the 40 fully certified controllers will have reached retirement eligibility by year’s end. If they all go, the facility will be left with a ratio of one fully certified controller to every 1.67 trainees; the FAA’s stated goal for a facility like Orlando is three fully certified controllers for every one trainee. It can take up to two and a half years for a trainee to reach certification in an adequately staffed facility and, with so many trainees and so few trainers, the work is piling up for those veteran controllers – giving them little to no time to train developmentals and lighten their workload.
  • Most of the controllers at Orlando Tower are working mandatory overtime, including those that are newly certified (even if only on one position), to make up for the decreased staffing. With some working 50 hour/six day weeks it’s clear to see that these controllers are overworked, burned out and retiring as soon as they’re eligible to do so.
  • In 2007 the total attrition for Orlando Tower was 34.
  • Orlando Tower is responsible for over 6,000 square miles of Central Florida airspace from Leesburg to Lakeland, Melbourne to Ormond Beach and from the surface to 16,000 feet. The facility is responsible for all business and general aviation as well flights in to and out of South Florida. In the last month the facility has set new records three times for the number of aircraft handled in a 24-hour period. In addition, the Orlando TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) handles 2,500 flight movements a day, a number that is expected to rise over the upcoming travel season.

 

ORLANDO EXECUTIVE AIRPORT TOWER (ORL)

  • Orlando Executive Tower operates with 10 fully certified controllers and one developmental. Prior to the FAA’s imposed work rules in September 2006, the safe staffing level set by FAA was 14. The facility is due to lose one controller to a transfer in August and also has three controllers that could retire at any time. 
  • With three trainees and one veteran controller (via transfer) due to arrive this year, the tower could be soon operating with only seven fully certified controllers and four trainees.
  • Orlando Executive controllers are responsible for approximately one-half of a five-mile circle around the center of the airport and the airspace up to 1,500 feet. In addition, the majority of the arriving and departing flights fly over the Orlando downtown area.

ORLANDO SANFORD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TOWER (SFB)

  • Prior to the FAA’s imposed work rules, the Sanford facility had as many as 23 controllers. Now they are operating with only 17 fully certified controllers, one of which isn’t working traffic due to a temporary staff position, and one trainee.
  • By the end of 2008, the facility is expected to get five more trainees. With four of their 17 fully certified controllers currently eligible to retire, the facility could be faced with six trainees but only 13 fully certified controllers able to train them in addition to working traffic.
  • Controllers here are responsible for all aircraft landing or departing the Orlando Sanford International Airport. Last year 1.78 million passengers used the airport and over 295,000 aircraft operations were conducted. 


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