Gannett News Service | The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal special report

Special report - Troubled towers: How safe are our skies?

Overview: What you'll learn by exploring this report
  • Nearly 1,100 fewer air traffic controllers are working in U.S. facilities than three years ago, despite increasing air traffic.
  • The number of controllers who chose to retire exceeded the Federal Aviation Administration's expectations for the third year in a row.
  • As the FAA replaces veteran controllers, as high as 20 percent of the workforce will be less experienced trainees.
  • The FAA says some facilities need more controllers and some less, but overall staffing is satisfactory.
  • Short staffing is causing some controllers to periodically work 10-hour days and six-day weeks, increasing the possibility of mistakes from fatigue, according to the union.
  • Mistakes made by controllers rose 68 percent between 1998 and 2005, according to FAA data.


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  • 2004 Controller Staffing: The Federal Aviation Administration outlines its plan in 2004 to hire, staff and train controllers in anticipation of a wave of retirements.
  • Workforce plan: The Federal Aviation Administration provides an updated plan in 2006 to hire, staff and train controllers in anticipation of retirements.
  • August 2006 Fact Book: The Federal Aviation Administration provides information on aviation safety, air traffic and air traffic control facilities.
  • 2006 FAA-NATCA Work Rules: Some controllers say retirement is more attractive because of new work rules, imposed Sept. 3 by the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • 2004 Report on Placing and Training Controllers: In light of the expected surge in retirements, the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General recommends in 2004 that the FAA develop attrition estimates by location and determine ways to reduce time and costs with on-the-job training.
  • June 15 2004 testimony: Alexis M. Stefani, principal assistant inspector general, U.S. Department of Transportation, testifies on June 15, 2004 before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on her "2004 Report on Placing and Training Controllers."
  • 2005060 Report on 10-Year Plan: The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General finds the FAA's 2004 workforce plan does not address controller staffing at the facility level or identify the costs associated with implementation.
  • Transportation Inspector General document: The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General finds in 2005 that the FAA needs to consider other ways to reduce the time and costs to train new controllers.
  • 2004 Report on Impending Controller Retirements: The Government Accountability Office on June 15, 2004, found that the Federal Aviation Administration faces numerous hiring and training challenges to ensure well-qualified air traffic controllers are ready to fill the gap created by an anticipated wave of retirements.
  • 2002 Controller Staffing: The Government Accountability Office in June 2002 recommended the Federal Aviation Administration develop a comprehensive workforce plan to better prepare for hiring and training controllers.

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