US controller shortage reaching crisis point

Budgetary missteps and bureaucratic red tape have led to a shortage of controllers in the United States, a state of affairs that has now reached a crisis level, according to Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of US controllers’ union NATCA.

Gilbert said controller staffing has fallen nearly 10 per cent since 2011 with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) missing its hiring goals for the last seven years.

“There are currently more controllers eligible to retire today than are currently in the pipeline to replace them. Significant changes are needed immediately,” said Gilbert.

“There are other concerns as well,” said Gilbert. “In some understaffed facilities, controllers must work overtime to provide adequate coverage. Some facilities lack sufficient staffing — even with overtime — to meet basic needs. Controllers are sometimes asked to work additional days. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, extended workdays and workweeks have led to significant fatigue problems. This has made fatigue one of the agency’s highest priority safety concerns.”

US controllers undergo rigorous and thorough training, beginning with two-to-five months at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. Upon graduation, trainees are assigned as developmental controllers at an air traffic control facility. They must complete several stages of additional training before full certification. The total process can take two-to-four years. Controllers must be hired by the FAA before their 31st birthday and retire by age 56.

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One Response to US controller shortage reaching crisis point

  1. James Sprester says:

    As an airline pilot, you can fly until any age as long as you can pass an annual FAA flight physical. You can also work as an air traffic controller at any age at one of the many FAA sub-contracted air traffic control towers across the country(as an employee for one of the privately contracted FAA facilities) But the FAA sets a mandatory maximum hiring age at 31 years old and a mandatory retirement age at 56 years old to actually work for the FAA (non-contracted facilities).

    Yet, there are thousands of ex-military air traffic controllers who are FAA certified control tower operators who are “too old” to work as an FAA controller. But the FAA says they are “fully qualified” to work at a FAA subcontracted control tower. This is stupid. The FAA implemented a program for retired military air traffic controllers (20 years served) to apply after age 31. But they have no avenue for honorably discharged (over age 31) veterans to apply. There is a HUGE resource available to help this “shortage”. There are thousands of FAA certified and experienced air traffic controllers, with no avenue to hire them because of a silly age limit. If someone is competent enough to control aircraft from a sub-contracted FAA air traffic control facility, why not an FAA facility? Simple government incompetence. But remember, you can fly a Boeing 777 at any age. If you are 32 years old, you are “too old”to be a controller at the FAA.