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Inspector General Staffing Report Validates NATCA's Concerns - (4/27/2009)

CONTACTS:  Mel Davis, Southern California TRACON NATCA Facility Representative, 858-243-2921; Steve McCoy, Northern California TRACON NATCA Facility Representative, 916-396-6977; Mike Foote, LAX Tower NATCA Facility Representative, 562-619-7107; Doug Church, NATCA National Office, 301-346-8245      

WASHINGTON – A report released today by the Department of Transportation Inspector General on the critical air traffic controller staffing issues at three major California FAA facilities vindicates what the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has long said about the safety concerns that come from a loss of experienced controllers and the vast amount of work now needed by the FAA to dig out from the deep hole caused by FAA labor, staffing and “run it like a business” failures during the Bush Administration.                

The IG found a whopping 32-percent decline in the number of fully trained and certified controllers at the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility (TRACON) – the nation’s busiest such facility. The IG, which also looked at the Northern California TRACON and Los Angeles (LAX) Tower, expressed concerns at the rapidly rising levels of trainees, found large increases in overtime at all three facilities – caused by the staffing shortages – and even calls into question the FAA’s bogus staffing “ranges” that have failed to properly identify the right number of controllers needed to safely work these facilities that have such a large impact on the nation’s air traffic.              

Click Here to read the report, which was requested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

“I want to thank Senator Feinstein for requesting this report and holding the FAA accountable for its dangerously misguided and reckless policies that have led to this crisis at these critical facilities,” NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. “A large TRACON like the ones in Northern and Southern California, or a major airport control tower should never be where a new trainee with no previous experience is sent to start their career. It’s terribly unfair to these trainees to put them in such a ridiculously difficult situation that most often results in their failure to succeed in training, which only worsens the problem for all involved.” 

The IG found in a report last June that the FAA’s imposed work rules and pay cuts have resulted in a drastic decline in the number of controllers who want to transfer to hard-to-staff and busy facilities like the ones in California discussed in today’s report.               

“The FAA’s failed ‘run it like a business’ approach the past few years is rearing its ugly head,” Forrey said. “Simply forcing out experienced controllers through imposed work rules and pay cuts and unfair, demoralizing working conditions, only to replace them with lower paid trainees, has resulted in high training failure rates, low experience levels and short staffing.    

“Desperation has bred reckless policies. Instead of fixing the labor mess it created, the FAA continued to dig itself a hole, all the while denying there was a staffing problem. Today’s report is clear: there IS a staffing problem. If the FAA cannot properly staff the country’s busiest TRACON, what does that say about the credibility of this agency on important issues of protecting the public’s safety"

The IG report is supported by NATCA’s own research asserting the critical staffing problems at Southern California’s air traffic control facilities. At Southern California TRACON the operational error total for 2009 puts the facility on pace to surpass last year’s error total. Operating with 160 fully certified controllers, the facility stands to lose 37 more to retirements, adding to the 50 it lost over the past three years.

When LAX Tower was once lauded for going error-free for 27 months it was operating with 44 to 46 fully trained controllers; now that total is down to 34. With the risk of losing five more to retirement, the potential for errors increases.

With 25 eligible to retire at Northern California TRACON the facility continues to lose experienced controllers; now operating with 133 fully certified controllers when the last negotiated staff number between NATCA and the FAA was for 196.    

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