The Air Traffic Control Staffing Crisis
(Updated Dec. 2019)
Stop-and-go funding crises have exacerbated the FAA’s air traffic controller staffing crisis. The FAA’s Certified Professional Controller (CPC) workforce remains at a 30-year low and a significant percentage of the certified controller workforce remains eligible to retire (16%). To make matters worse, the FAA lowered its air traffic controller hiring target for this fiscal year from 1,431 to 907 as a result of the shutdown.
Moreover, the controller staffing crisis cannot be remedied simply by increased hiring by the FAA in the short-term. New hires who are admitted into the FAA Academy today will require two to five years of training before they become fully trained and capable of separating air traffic on their own. Of those who are admitted, in 2019, only 73% of students have successfully completed their Academy training. Historically, there has been additional attrition once Academy graduates begin on-the-job training at their facilities. NATCA is encouraged, however, as we are starting to see some positive results from the transfer program that allows CPCs from facilities with a lower staffing need to transfer to facilities with the greatest staffing need, while the FAA also continues to place Academy graduates at certain air traffic facilities in which initial certification is more likely.
How This Issue Affects NATCA Members
Air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals who work in air traffic control facilities are dedicated and highly skilled professionals. They are forced to shoulder the burden of chronically understaffed facilities, which negatively affects their work and their ability to serve as subject matter experts for various modernization programs. No one wants delays, interruptions to service, or decreased capacity. Controllers at the most critically-understaffed facilities are forced to work mandatory overtime in order to maintain current capacity.
In order for controllers to continue providing the type of service the flying public deserves, we must continue to improve hiring, training, and the transfer and placement process. The most recent government shutdown exacerbated the current controller staffing crisis and will continue to cause a ripple effect that will delay controller training throughout 2019 and beyond.