FAA Must Improve Controller Training Metrics To Identify Program Needs


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FAA Must Improve Controller Training Metrics To Identify Program Needs

By Mike Mitchell

April 3, 2011 - Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports the FAA must improve its controller training metrics to help identify program needs. The  Federal  Aviation  Administration  (FAA)  plans  to  hire  and  train  nearly 11,000 new air traffic controllers through fiscal year (FY) 2019 to replace the large numbers of those now retiring.   

As the FAA begins training this influx of new hires, it must have accurate metrics on their training progress to ensure that key air traffic control facilities have enough controllers for safe and efficient operations. 

In 2009, at the request of Representative Jerry F. Costello, then Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, OIG reviewed training failures among newly hired air traffic controllers. 

During that review, OIG found that the FAA’s reported training failure rate was not accurate and that FAA’s primary source of training failure data, the National Training Database (NTD), contained outdated and inaccurate data which are critical metrics for managing this important program. 

OIG audit objectives were to evaluate the FAA’s actions to improve its system for tracking the training progress of newly hired controllers and review the FAA’s metrics for measuring and reporting the effectiveness of its controller training program.   

As a part of the evaluation, OIG examined the FAA’s methodology for calculating the training attrition and completion rates of developmental (new) controllers. OIG conducted this review between November 2009 and January 2011.

The results in brief identified that the FAA has improved its tracking process for new controller training over the last year. The Agency has taken a number of corrective actions to address the problems identified in 2009 that contributed to an inaccurate training failure rate reported for newly hired controllers.


These actions include establishing a new Quality Assurance Group in March 2010 to oversee NTD data collection, separately tracking new hires and veteran controllers, distinguishing between training failures and other types of attrition in the NTD, and issuing guidance to enforce data accuracy.  

While these actions are positive steps towards improving how it tracks the training progress of newly hired controllers, FAA continues to face challenges in identifying training program needs and measuring the overall success of the training program. 

FAA’s metrics for measuring the effectiveness of the controller training program do not provide a complete picture because they include controllers who have not completed their initial training.   

For example, if there are 100 controllers in the training program and 9 of those controllers fail or leave, FAA reports an attrition rate of 9 percent. This produces unrealistic results because some of the remaining 91 in-progress controllers may also leave the program at a later time.   

Eventually, all controllers in training will either be certified or leave the program, but because the FAA includes all in-progress controllers in its attrition rate, it dilutes the program’s actual loss and completion rates. As a result, the FAA cannot rely on these data to make appropriate and timely adjustments to the program.      

When OIG assessed the number of controllers who successfully completed training against those who did not, they found a significantly higher attrition rate of 21 percent for newly hired controllers. This presents a very different picture of success compared to the 9-percent attrition rate reported by FAA for FY 2009. 

Accurate training data are necessary so that FAA can adequately prepare new hires to replace retiring veteran controllers, assign new hires to the appropriate level and type of facility, and adjust its training program when warranted. 

New  air  traffic  controllers  must  complete  an  arduous  training  program  that includes learning the basic concepts of air traffic control at the FAA Academy, followed by extensive facility training at their assigned location. Those controllers who are unable to pass the training process are either

(1) Transferred within their assigned facilities to a new area of operation,
(2) Transferred to a less complex facility to begin the training process again, or
(3) Terminated from employment with FAA.   

While certification times for individual controllers may vary, the FAA’s goal is to have terminal candidates who manage air traffic in the vicinity of airports, complete the training process in 2 years, and en route candidates, who manage high-altitude traffic in 3 years. 

The FAA has improved its tracking process for new controller training over the last year. The FAA has taken a number of actions in response to OIG June 2009 report to improve its tracking process for newly hired controllers in training.

The safety of the National Airspace System relies on having a fully staffed, well- trained air traffic controller workforce. To maintain the controller workforce in light of recent increases in controller retirements, the FAA faces tremendous challenges in executing its plans to train nearly 11,000 new controllers over the next 10 years.   

Having accurate metrics to measure and report on the effectiveness of its controller training program should be a critical component of that plan. However, the FAA’s current metrics do not portray an accurate picture of the program’s success. If the actual number of new controllers who do not complete initial training is greater than the FAA anticipates, the Agency runs the risk of not maintaining a sufficient number of fully trained controllers at some of the most complex air traffic control facilities in the National Airspace System. 

To help identify controller training program needs and provide a more accurate picture of its training program success, the FAA needs to modify its training metrics by removing controllers still in training from its attrition and completion calculations. Specifically, OIG has recommend that the FAA replace its current training metrics with metrics that focus on how many controllers complete their training or leave the program during a given period of time.

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