The Phoenix president of the air traffic controllers union said an FAA plan to condense training, create part-time slots and depend on split-shift schedules is a poor way to deal with an impending nationwide controller shortage.
At one of more than two dozen news conferences held across the country Tuesday, Warren J. Meehan, the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic manager for Phoenix, discussed the agency’s nationwide proposal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The agency is dealing with a looming wave of retirements as more than half of the nation’s 15,000 air traffic controllers reach the government’s mandatory retirement age of 56 by 2012, a problem that got its roots in 1981 when then-President Ronald Reagan fired and replaced 12,000 striking controllers.
Meehan said the proposal unveiled Tuesday is a 10-year strategy that lays a blueprint to hire and train staff while increasing efficiency and improving productivity.
The plan pares training for new controllers from a three to five-year process to a twoto three-year one and increases the likelihood of graduation from a 57 percent success rate to more than 95 percent through the use of a new qualifying aptitude test.
In addition, Meehan said that that FAA would also redeploy controllers based on current flight traffic levels to ensure that the "right number of controllers are at the "right place at the right time."
Meehan also said that the FAA will use part-time workers and split-shift schedules to manage the nation’s flights and will offer retirement waivers to qualified controllers on an annual basis until they reach 61.
Dave Riley, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association Phoenix Local, criticized the slow pace of the FAA’s progress and the use of part-time workers and split-shift schedules as a way to solve a larger problem.
"It’s kind of a Wal-Mart solution in a Tiffany box," Riley said.
Because of the stressful nature of the job and the yearslong time commitment just to train for an air traffic controller position, Riley said it’s unlikely that anyone would be willing to accept part-time or split-shift work.
The FAA’s hiring plan includes 435 new controllers next year for whom Congress has already budgeted.
In 2006, 1,249 will be added, and varying amounts will be hired in subsequent years through 2014.
When hiring is completed, the FAA will have about 16,200 controllers, about 1,500 more than now, to accommodate an expected increase in air traffic.
With more people than ever traveling by air, airlines support adding controllers to ensure planes running on schedule. Delays very are costly for the airlines.
But there also is concern that if the FAA can’t get Congress to approve the money needed for the new controllers it will seek to raise taxes on the airlines.
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 past four years.