Massive hiring of controllers may delay new FAA systems

If it has to, the Federal Aviation Administration will forgo some of its systems modernization to cover salary and training for the 12,500 air traffic controllers it expects to hire during the next 10 years.

"If funding availability is insufficient, FAA will have to make cuts in other less critical systems' support, delay the implementation of new programs or reduce services in order to provide funding for controller hiring," the agency said in a new hiring strategy released today.

FAA administrator Marion Blakey said the report details the agency's controller needs and how such technology as simulators and online learning can help reduce training cost time.

Nearly three quarters of FAA's 15,000 controllers will be eligible to retire within the next decade. "This plan is our blueprint to put the right number of controllers in the right place at the right time," Blakey said.

But lean budgets and shrinking airport trust fund revenues could result in FAA slowing the rollout of modernized air traffic systems to fund the hundreds of millions it will cost to train the new hires.

"The net effect of a lack of funding to pursue this initiative will be a reduction of service, a reduction in efficiency and a reduction in modernization. And those are their [FAA's] words, not mine," said John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents a majority of controllers.

He said the controller shortage has already hit. "While drafting this long-awaited plan, FAA lost over 500 controllers but hired only 13."

The large number of controllers eligible to retire is the result of former President Reagan firing 12,000 striking controllers in 1981, which lead to a massive hiring to replace them.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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