DOT Report: Controller Training Needs Another Look

 - April 4, 2012, 3:30 AM

Although the FAA has begun hiring and training more than 12,000 air traffic controllers to offset the large numbers of impending retirees, a disturbing number of new hires fail to complete their training, according to a January report from the DOT Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The three-year training process starts with a two-month introduction to the basic concepts of ATC at the FAA Academy, Oklahoma City, followed by extensive facility training at the new hire’s assigned location. Most of the latter is on-the-job training, supplemented by classroom work under qualified controller instructors. Those trainees who are unable to pass the progressive test levels at the facility are either transferred within the facility to other areas of operations, transferred to a less demanding facility to begin the process again, or terminated.

Typically, the trainee attrition rate over several years has averaged 24 percent, and the OIG focused its review on the staffing and training resources at 21 FAA facilities described as critical, based on airspace complexity, number of operations and the number of airlines serving that location. The review revealed that between FY2008 and FY2010 the average training attrition rate at those facilities was 40 percent.

The OIG attributes this attrition rate in large part to the FAA’s practice of placing large numbers of inexperienced new hires at the most critical and complex facilities. At the New York Tracon, for example, 77 percent of new controllers who completed training between FY2008 and FY2010 failed to qualify as certified professional controllers (CPC), while of the 200 new controllers entering training at the Socon Tracon in 2007, only 58 had become certified after more than three years.

Since then, the FAA has introduced more advanced training techniques and systems, including the computer-based ATC Optimum Training Solution (Atcots), but no firm results have been published. However, Albuquerque Center management stated that the introduction of Atcots called for the number of instructors to be cut to four from 20, leaving the facility unable to cover all training needs. Similar situations arose at other facilities with the introduction of automated training.

The OIG report has shaken up the status quo of FAA training, and in its response the agency has stated its intention to reassess its training procedures and its training philosophy. This is even more essential today with the need for advanced training for all current CPCs, however experienced, as they transition to NextGen’s new technologies and procedures

For those who are unable to take up a flying career, the ATC profession is probably as close to flying as one could get, and is something that many young people might seriously consider. While the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) was not prepared to discuss current salaries with AIN, an undated brochure on the organization’s website described starting pay as $30,000 per year, and AIN understands that this can top out at around $160,000 after 25 to 30 years “on the boards.” Maximum age for applicants is 30, a college degree is not required and, with increasing levels of retirement reported by the OIG, promotion to more senior positions is accelerating. Call your nearest FAA recruiting office, today.