FAA Lagging in Air Traffic Training, Report Says

By Michael J. Sniffen
Associated Press
Thursday, June 12, 2008

The government is hiring so many new air traffic controllers to replace departing veterans that it cannot efficiently train them, an inspector general reported Tuesday.

The Transportation Department's inspector general said the Federal Aviation Administration is so swamped with new hires that it has exceeded its own maximum trainee numbers at 22 percent of its 314 air control facilities. The FAA uses a database replete with erroneous information to manage the training program and has failed to implement remedial steps the agency itself promised in 2004, the IG report added.

Even inside the FAA, it wasn't clear who was in charge because four vice presidents at FAA headquarters have authority over some part of hiring and training controllers.

"Facility managers, training managers and even headquarters officials were unable to tell us who or what office was ultimately responsible for facility training," the IG report said.

In a written response, the FAA accepted most of the IG's recommendations. But the FAA rejected the idea of making public an accurate count each year of how many fully certified controllers and how many trainees work in each of its facilities.

Noting that the figures change frequently, the FAA said, "Publishing annual static snapshots of total trainees by facility will be of little meaningful use."

The FAA has known for decades it would have to replace a major portion of its workforce during a few years early in the 21st century because President Ronald Reagan fired 10,438 controllers in 1981. After Reagan broke an earlier controllers union during that contract dispute, replacements were hired over a few ensuing years.

The FAA began issuing plans for this hiring surge in 2004 and said earlier this year it expects to hire 17,000 controllers through 2017.

But the FAA has consistently underestimated how many controllers would retire or quit since fall 2006, when the Bush administration declared an impasse in contract negotiations. The FAA imposed new work rules, a 30 percent cut in starting pay, a freeze on base pay of current controllers and elimination of their premium pay opportunities. The IG's report said the imposed contract cut top pay from $143,984 to $106,200 and starting pay from $44,800 to $37,800.

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