As the summer air travel season gets set to begin, air traffic controllers are again warning the public about a worsening staffing shortage and the effects of fatigue caused by fewer controllers working longer shifts.
This is a direct result of the Federal Aviation Administrations imposition of harsh work and pay rules that has driven the ranks of fully trained and certified controllers down to their lowest levels since 1992. And the already exhausted workforce could get stretched even farther this summer: The FAA is considering canceling vacation time for controllers to deal with short-staffing, which will deprive controllers of the breaks they so desperately need away from this grueling job. NATCA has produced a 30-second video advertisement to highlight these issues. You can watch it here: Here is an overview of several key statistics in the staffing crisis: A total of 2,687 controllers and trainees have left their jobs through retirement, resignations, transfers to other FAA jobs and other reasons from Sept. 3, 2006 (the day the FAA imposed work and pay rules) through March 31, 2008. Thats nearly 20 percent of the workforce. Total retirements from Sept. 3, 2006 through March 31, 2008 is 1,514. The FAA predicted only 1,030 retirements for this time period. Of the 1,417 retirements since Oct. 1, 2006, only 30 (2.1 percent) reached the mandatory retirement age of 56. Halfway through the current fiscal year, total controller attrition was 960, including 506 retirements. The FAA in March increased its attrition projections for FY08, hoping no one would notice the deliberate attempt to hide the scope of the staffing problem, but yet is still on pace to miss projections for a fifth straight fiscal year. Only 153 of the 1,800 new hires the FAA made in FY07 have become fully certified controllers, which is proof that the FAA started hiring far too late to have any hope of keeping up with attrition that has soared well beyond all FAA predictions due to the extreme anger and low morale caused by the agencys imposed work and pay rules. Low controller staffing levels will also impact flight delays this summer, as they have for well over a year now. And the effects will be felt not just in the busy hubs but in popular vacation destinations like Asheville, N.C. Low staffing at the Asheville air traffic control facility has caused a ground stop this morning, meaning that aircraft headed to Asheville had to be held on the ground at their departure airports. Click here to view the actual FAA traffic management unit log entry for this event: http://www.natca.org/assets/Documents/mediacenter/5.20.08.pdf