As FAA seeks to add controllers, union pleads for contract

As Federal Aviation Administration officials issued a new plan to hire more air traffic controllers, a labor representative told lawmakers Thursday that the agency won't be able to maintain adequate staffing levels unless it negotiates a new contract with controllers.

"Without a concerted effort to attract experienced controllers and retain our current workforce, the ATC system will continue to lose controllers, and that will mean flight delays, runway incursions and increased chance of aviation disasters," said Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. He testified at a hearing held by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation.

"Though the FAA continually refers to a contract," he said, "the truth is that NATCA [members], including air traffic controllers, engineers, test pilots, nurses, lawyers and others, are working under imposed work and pay rules. This is not a contract."

The union and the agency were unable to reach agreement on pay and benefits issues last year, resulting in an impasse and the forced implementation of the agency's final proposal.

Forrey said resolving the differences and agreeing on a new contract would show controllers that they have an opportunity for better pay and better work rules, and thus discourage them from retiring as soon as they are eligible.

Lawmakers did not pledge action on the matter, but said they would follow up with several hearings on the reauthorization of the FAA, including several that will focus on the agency's budget and modernization. NATCA spokesman Doug Church said that one hearing will be devoted to the controller staffing issue.

"I want to be a part of the solution on this," said Sen. John Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "This has to happen … not just because of timing but because of its power to do damage to the nation."

The air traffic controller staffing crisis has long been a matter of debate. The problem can be traced back to 1981, when President Reagan fired more than 10,000 controllers and hired replacements. Nearly three-quarters of those will be eligible for retirement within the next eight years.

On Wednesday, the FAA released an updated plan to hire more than 15,000 air traffic controllers over the next decade. The plan calls for hiring nearly 1,400 new controllers this year, a net increase of 189 controllers over 2006 hiring levels.

It provides a range of authorized controller staffing numbers for each of the agency's 314 facilities across the country, in an attempt to allow more flexibility in matching the number of controllers with traffic volume and workload.

"Air traffic levels are very dynamic," said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey in a statement on the new plan. "It is critical that we staff facilities based on actual and forecasted traffic demands. We are confident that the new controller hires will be able to meet the needs of the future."

Experts at the hearing argued that an attempt to rapidly modernize the nation's 1950s air traffic control system and implement a new system could help meet all of the demands of the 21st century.

But Church of NATCA argued that though new computer displays and better software have improved the efficiency of controllers, the introduction of new technologies would not replace the great demand for highly skilled controllers.

"Our bottom line is we haven't seen anything that would replace a controller," Church said. "The notion of moving off radar to a satellite system is a good idea, but you still need controllers monitoring these flights. We argue that staffing levels need to be increased as we move forward."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.