A Monaca, Pa., community college will train air traffic controllers, a task previously handled only by a federal academy where half the candidates fail.
The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to hire 14 graduates a year from Beaver County Community College, which will be the first school to place controllers directly in tower jobs.
The program's graduates will receive more instruction than students at the FAA's Oklahoma City academy and "a more in-depth understanding of the air traffic control business," said Robert Powell, the college's director of air traffic education and a former controller.
The FAA and college officials signed contracts for the program last week in a ceremony at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.
About 1,200 candidates a year take rigorous three-month courses at the FAA academy, where "if you fail, you're fired," said Herbert R. McLure, the FAA's human resources director.
"We'd like to have a more humane way of terminating people," he said. "Our business is in air traffic control. We're not professionals in the training field."
The school's 14-year-old program already places traffic control interns at Greater Pittsburgh Airport and operates the control tower at the Beaver County Airport, the only tower in the nation run by a college, FAA officials said.
Graduates will be placed at medium-size airports. They must pass FAA tests before being certified.
Allowing the college to weed out students should improve historically strained relations between controllers and the FAA, said William Pollard, the agency's associate administrator for air traffic.
The FAA has struggled to fill controllers' posts since 1981, when President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 union controllers who illegally walked off the job.