Yesterday, June, 11, 2008, the House Aviation Subcommittee heard testimony (click on link for video the hearing) on a situation that is becoming more dire as every day passes – Air Traffic Controllers are retiring, leaving a dearth of qualified, trained controllers to take their places.  The House Aviation Subcommittee convened the hearing to find out what can be done about the situation.

First up in Panel 1, were the bureaucrats.  Hank Krakowski from the FAA, Patrick Forrey from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, along with Dr. Gerald Dillingham from the GAO, Calvin Scovey from the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General and David Conley of the FAA Managers Association.  Predictably, Mr. Krakowski downplayed any crisis, stating in his prepared remarks that the FAA was on top of the situation:  hiring 2000 controllers this year, seeking ways to retain retirement-eligible controllers, and working on a contract with NATCA.  

Mr. Forrey, had a different view.  He stated that “this country is facing an air traffic control staffing crisis” leading to “an unacceptable compromise in safety.”  First and foremost, to him, the FAA needs to return to the bargaining table with the NATCA to work on a contract.  That will lead to a higher retention rate of both experienced controllers and new hires.

Subcommittee members in their questioning sought to resolve the differences between the FAA and NATCA and implored the GAO and DOT-IG to assist in that effort.  Both the FAA and NATCA say they want a contract, but how they are going to get there is the open question.

The second panel was where the rubber hit the road.  Three air traffic controllers, Don Chapman from Philadelphia, Steven Wallace from Miami and Melvin S. Davis from Los Angeles testified about the problems they are facing at each of their facilities.  Although each mentioned specific challenges their facilities faced, they all came back to three major issuesinadequate staffing (which raises safety concerns); inadequate training of new hires (which also raises safety concerns); and controller fatigue because the first two issues.  The Subcommittee seemed to take to these men and their "view from the front line."

(It should be mentioned that the Blog, "The Potomac Current and Undertow," offered an e-mail sent to FAA Air Traffic District Managers to find Air Traffic Controllers who would support the FAA’s position that things are headed in the right direction.  Since only Messrs. Chapman, Wallace and Davis were the only controllers who appeared as witnesses, their effort seemed to fall short.)