Washington Report: FAA Increases Controller Hiring

 - March 26, 2007, 6:56 AM

The FAA revised its controller hiring plan early last month to adjust for greater retirement numbers and revisions to staffing requirements at each of the agency’s 314 staffed facilities. The plan provides a range of authorized controller staffing numbers, giving the agency greater flexibility to match the number of controllers with traffic volume and workload.

In the past, the agency said it would hire about 12,500 controllers over the next decade, to accommodate retirements and other departures. Many of the controllers hired in the wake of the 1981 controllers strike and firing by President Reagan are becoming eligible to retire.

Now the FAA will hire and train more than 15,000 controllers over the next decade. The updated plan calls for hiring nearly 1,400 new controllers this year, a net increase of 189 controllers over 2006 staffing levels, including attrition.

In developing the individual staffing ranges, the FAA considered past performance, the performance of similar air traffic facilities, productivity improvements, industrial engineering staffing standards and recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, as well as input from field managers, overtime trends, time-on position data and expected retirements. The staffing requirements also take into account unique facility requirements, such as temporary airport construction, seasonal activity and the number of controllers currently in training.

“Air traffic levels are dynamic,” said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. “It is critical that we staff facilities based on actual and forecast traffic demands. We are confident that the new controller hires will be able to meet the needs of the future.”

In Fiscal Year 2006, the FAA hired 1,116 new controllers, increasing the total number of controllers on board to 14,618. Increased capacity at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City and at air traffic facility simulators will lower the average training time from three years to two years at terminal facilities and from five years to three years for en route facilities, according to the FAA.

The agency said it has also made significant progress in effectively staffing facilities by using improved scheduling practices, new automated tools and better management of leave.

Blakey disputed the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s claims that “no one wants to be a controller any more.” She said that a new controller makes $48,000 in cash compensation after about a year and that almost doubles to $94,000 in about five years.