The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday announced plans for temporary hiring of 1,500 laid-off pilots to fill support positions in air traffic control facilities while full-time replacements for the striking controllers are trained.
Pilots' familiarity with air traffic procedures make them well-qualified to work in the facilities, an FAA statement said. Their training will take about five weeks.
However, it remained unclear how many pilots will apply for the jobs, which will pay a fraction of their former salaries and make them assistants to people they have often dismissed as overpaid and underworked.
The pilots "will be in support jobs," FAA spokesman Fred Farrar said. "They won't actually be controlling traffic."
The new hires' tasks will include delivering computer printouts to controllers, informing planes on the ground of flight clearances and running training equipment, Farrar said.
A spokesman for the striking Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) expressed "disgust and amazement" at the FAA plan. Pat Doyle said the jobs, normally filled by controllers, are far more complex than the FAA's description of them. Putting novices into those slots could create new safety hazards, he said.
About 12,000 of the system's 16,000 controllers have been fired or are in the process of being terminated as a result of the walkout five weeks ago. In the meantime, the FAA is making do with crews composed of supervisors, military controllers and nonstriking civilians, many of them working six-day weeks.
Concern has been voiced that these crews' alertness will be impaired eventually. Hiring 1,500 pilots to perform the simpler jobs would relieve some of that pressure.
Full-time replacements for the striking controllers are being recruited. When they complete training, they will take over the temporaries' jobs, the FAA said.
About 3,650 pilots are now on furlough, according to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). All but about 350 were furloughed before the strike due to financial difficulties in the airline industry.
The FAA will require applicants for the temporary jobs to have at least two years' experience with the control system. The agency will begin accepting applications in two weeks, and hopes to fill all the slots by December, with appointments lasting up to two years.
A spokesman for ALPA yesterday welcomed the FAA decision. "We're pleased to see that some of our furloughed pilots are finding an opportunity to get some work," the aide said, declining further comment.
Starting salary will be $15,193 per year, an enormous salary cut for most pilots. According to ALPA, a pilot with two years' experience earns an average of $33,600 year.