This is off the UTU web site
FAA to hire 12,500 traffic controllers
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a report to Congress yesterday (Dec. 21) that it would hire 12,500 air traffic controllers over the next decade to offset expected retirements, according to this Associated Press report by Leslie Miller published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said 435 controllers would be added next year, 1,249 the following year, and varying numbers in subsequent years through 2014. When hiring is completed, the FAA will have 16,500 controllers, 1,500 more than now.
FAA officials would not say how Philadelphia International Airport, which has some of the nation's worst air traffic congestion, would be affected. The agency has 87 fully trained controllers there now, compared with an official FAA number of 109 needed to completely staff the facility, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
John Carr, president of the controllers' union, said the FAA's national hiring timetable was too long.
"There is an immediate problem with air traffic controller staffing, and the FAA is promising a solution several years down the road," he said in an interview.
At a news briefing on the plan yesterday at the Philadelphia control tower, FAA Eastern Region administrator Arlene Feldman said local staffing levels would be determined by the airport's number of takeoffs and landings. Philadelphia may need fewer controllers than it has now if the facility can be run more efficiently, she said.
Don Chapman, head of the union's Philadelphia chapter, said the report validated what the union has said for several years. "I believe this facility is understaffed and is the most understaffed in the Eastern Region," he said.
The FAA's plan emphasizes having adequate numbers of controllers at times of peak air traffic, but the agency needs to make sure it has sufficient staff at all times, Chapman said.
"The margin of safety is going down in our view," he said.
Both Blakey and Feldman noted that recent years have been the safest in aviation history.
"We will continue to operate the world's safest aviation system by being smarter and more efficient about our staff needs," Blakey said.
It takes years on the job for controllers to become proficient. Blakey has said the use of simulators could speed the training period.
Money also is an issue. Much of the FAA's revenue comes from a passenger ticket tax pegged at 7.5 percent of fares. Cheaper tickets offered by discount airlines have caused the FAA's dedicated revenue to fall 8 percent in the last four years.
The cost of hiring and training the workers will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The FAA said it spends $161,000 in pay and benefits a year for each controller. Fully qualified controllers average $100,000 to $120,000 a year in salary, officials said.
Despite the federal government's fiscal woes, Blakey said, "we do expect that kind of funding will be there from Congress."
Carr said he expected that the FAA would have to slow airport infrastructure improvements and postpone purchases of new technology to help pay for the new hires.
The FAA has estimated that nearly half of its 15,000 controllers will retire in the next nine years. The timing of the departures can be traced to 1981, when President Ronald Reagan fired 12,000 striking controllers and hired replacements.
(The preceding Associated Press report by Leslie Miller was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004. Staff writer Tom Belden contributed to this article.)
December 22, 2004