OIG To Audit The FAA's Air Traffic Controller Facility Training Program


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OIG To Audit The FAA's Air Traffic Controller Facility Training Program

By Daniel Baxter

February 6, 2012 - The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) plans to conduct a review of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air traffic controller facility training. The FAA plans to hire and train nearly 11,000 new controllers through fiscal year 2020 to offset the impending retirements of those hired after the 1981 controller strike. 

With so many veteran controllers retiring, the FAA faces the risk of not having enough certified professional controllers (CPCs) to maintain continuity of air traffic operations. 

Over the past two years, the average training times for controllers assigned to terminal facilities have increased significantly, primarily due to the increased number of new hires who have no prior air traffic experience. In addition, some facilities experience high training attrition rates. 

In the last few years, the FAA has introduced several training initiatives, such as purchasing new training simulators, in an attempt to address these issues. Training and certifying these large numbers of newly hired controllers have posed significant challenges for the FAA, prompting several new training initiatives.

Video of what it's like to be an air traffic controller 

Accordingly, OIG’s audit objectives are to identify steps the FAA has taken to improve the facility training program for air traffic controllers and assess the effectiveness of those steps in improving training times, staffing composition, and training completion rates. OIG plans to begin this audit this month at FAA Headquarters and selected air traffic control facilities. 

Air traffic controllers are generally individuals who are well organized, are quick with numeric computations and mathematics, have assertive and firm decision making skills, and possess excellent short-term memory and visual memory abilities. In addition, studies have shown that air traffic controllers generally have a degree of situational awareness that is much higher than the average population.  

Excellent hearing and speaking skills are a requirement, and trainees undergo rigid physical and psychological testing. In addition they are generally assertive but calm under pressure, and they are able to follow and apply rules yet be flexible when necessary. 

Air traffic controllers must maintain some of the strictest medical and mental requirements for professions; conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, and many mental disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, a history of drug abuse) typically disqualify people from obtaining certification. Conditions such as hypertension, while not disqualifying, are taken seriously and must be monitored with medical examinations by certified doctors. 

Controllers must take precautions to remain healthy and avoid certain medications that are banned for them. Many drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) such as SSRI antidepressants are banned without specialized certification. Almost universally, trainee controllers begin work in their twenties and retire in their fifties. 

If employed by the FAA, the latest one can start training is usually age 30, and retirement is mandatory at 56 years of age. However, retired military air traffic controllers may qualify for appointment after reaching 31 years of age.

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