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NATCA Applauds Senate Commerce Committee for Passage of Bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Bill, Reiterates Call to Include Controller “Maximum Hiring” Requirement in Final Bill

(WASHINGTON) – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) applauds the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation for its work to pass the FAA Reauthorization Act. We want to specifically thank Chair Cantwell, Ranking Member Cruz, Aviation Subcommittee Chair Duckworth, and Ranking Member Moran for their support and bipartisan efforts to move this bill. We also recognize the efforts of their staffs and the Committee staff. 

Specifically, NATCA thanks the Committee for its inclusion of Sec. 521, which will amend the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) annual Controller Workforce Plan to include new, updated staffing targets based on the work of the Collaborative Resources Workgroup (CRWG). 

The CRWG includes representatives from the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) and NATCA. It found that additional controller staffing is required to meet the operational, statutory, and contractual requirements of the aviation system. These new staffing targets should serve as the basis for the FAA’s Controller Workforce Plan moving forward.  

NATCA also supports Sec. 530, which will ensure that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acquires and implements mobile tower simulator systems (TSS) at each air traffic control tower that does not have an existing permanent TSS. These systems do not replace on-the-job-training (OJT) with live traffic, but they do serve an important supplemental role. TSS have been shown to reduce overall OJT time by 27% (nearly 6 months on average) for tower controllers, while also improving the success rate for controllers who need specific simulator help with one skill area or another. TSS also provide Certified Professional Controllers (CPCs) the opportunity to receive necessary refresher training allowing them to experience and practice uncommon scenarios such as aircraft emergencies, rapidly changing weather, issuance of safety alerts, and recovering from unforeseen events or losses of separation without having to experience those scenarios with actual aircraft. 

Additionally, the bill’s language to expand capacity at the FAA Academy in Sec. 533 will reduce the training bottleneck at the existing Academy and help deliver more qualified trainees to facilities where they can begin OJTI. 

NATCA strongly urges the Senate to include S.2839, the Air Traffic Controllers Hiring Act of 2023, in the final FAA reauthorization bill that is sent to the president. S.2839 already has 30 bi-partisan Senate co-sponsors, including sponsor Sen. Braun (Ind.) and original co-sponsors Sen. Klobuchar (Min.), Sen. Marshall (Kan.), Sen. Shaheen (N.H.), Sen. Luján (N.M.), and Sen. Boozman (Ark.). This bill would require the FAA to hire to the maximum capacity of the FAA Academy throughout the five-year duration of the bill.   

Maximum hiring is necessary to reverse the controller staffing crisis that has resulted in 1,160 fewer CPCs than FAA had at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. FAA also has over 900 fewer trainees than it had just five years ago. At the end of FY 2023, FAA netted an additional 15 Certified Professional Controllers (CPCs) compared to the end of FY 2022. FAA also netted only an additional 15 trainees at the end of FY 2023 compared to end of FY 2022 for a net total of 30 additional “on board” Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCS). The FAA’s hiring and staffing plans have caused this crisis and need to be replaced. 

In June, the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General issued an audit concluding that “while the United States has one of the safest air traffic systems in the world, the lack of fully certified controllers . . . poses a potential risk to air traffic operations.”  In November of 2023, the FAA’s independent National Airspace System (NAS) Safety Review Team also concluded that under FAA’s most recent Controller Workforce Plan submitted to Congress, “when retirements and other attrition is accounted for, the hiring plan produces a negligible improvement over today’s understaffed levels, resulting in a net increase of fewer than 200 air traffic controllers by 2032.” 

This staffing crisis did not happen overnight, and it cannot be fixed easily or immediately. Hiring and training air traffic controllers to full certification can take several years and requires a consistent and sustained commitment from all stakeholders. Replacing the FAA’s finance-based staffing targets in the Controller Workforce Plan with those from the CRWG is one part of this process, but FAA must also conduct maximum controller hiring to ensure the controller workforce can meet the growing demands of current and future air traffic including integrating new users into the system. 

The policies contained in the Committee-passed FAA bill, along with the Air Traffic Controllers Hiring Act of 2023 (S.2839), serve as two key parts of a comprehensive staffing and training plan that will address this crisis and finally put the FAA on a path to appropriate controller staffing levels.  Again, NATCA thanks the Committee leadership, Members, and staff, and we look forward to working with our House and Senate partners to enact a final FAA reauthorization bill into law. 

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FOR MORE INFORMATION:  
Galen Munroe, Deputy Director of Public Affairs; 202-220-9802, gmunroe@natca.org. 

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is a labor union and aviation safety organization in the United States that represents nearly 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers, and other aviation safety-related professionals. NATCA was certified in 1987 by the Federal Labor Relations Authority to be the exclusive bargaining representative for air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Today, NATCA is one of the strongest labor unions in the federal sector and represents a range of aviation safety professionals in 15 FAA bargaining units, five Department of Defense air traffic facilities, and 123 federal contract towers. These air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals make vital contributions to the U.S. economy and make modern life possible by coordinating the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of one billion aviation passengers and millions of tons of freight within the National Airspace System each year. NATCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. 

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