Air traffic control training gaps will be exacerbated by NextGen, says OIG


Air traffic control facilities critical to management of the national airspace system face a training resource gap that roll out of a Federal Aviation Administration modernization effort will exacerbate, says the Transportation Department office of inspector general.

In a report dated Jan. 12, the auditors note the agency started a hiring wave in fiscal 2005 in anticipation of controllers hired after the 1981 controller strike reaching retirement age. In 21 air traffic control facilities auditors considered to be critical to aviation safety due to the volume and complexity of air traffic, more than half equal or surpass the 25 percent national average of certified professional controllers eligible to retire. Yet attrition of trainees at more than two thirds of those facilities exceed the national rate of 24 percent, the report says. At the New York terminal radar approach control, 77 percent of new controllers between fiscals 2008 and 2010 didn't become certified professional controllers.

Auditors say critical facilities lack training support and places the blame largely on training slot methodology used by the  Air Traffic Control Optimum Training Solution program office. The FAA awarded in 2008 an at least $437 million contract to Raytheon to manage ATCOTS. Auditors in the past have suggested that Raytheon's staffing methodology may need examination, and in this report they point to a training resource allocation tool launched by the ATCOTS program office in February 2011.

As a result of it, the Dallas TRACON saw its training capacity go down from two shifts a day to one after the ATCOTS program office reduced the number of hours provided by contract instructors by 20 percent, the report says.

"We also found critical facilities that have a high volume of trainees but not enough contract instructors to take full advantage of training simulators," auditors add.

The FAA training mission will become only more challenging as it begins to implement NextGen, since the entire controller workforce will require re-training to utilize it, the report says. At critical facilities where large numbers of new hires are also being trained to replace retirees, simultaneously retraining veterans "will be particularly difficult."

For more:
- download the report, AV-2012-039 (.pdf)

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