Controller Staffing at Key California Air Traffic Control Facilities
On April 23, 2009, we issued our report on controller staffing at three key California air traffic control facilities: the Los Angeles International Airport Traffic Control Tower (LAX), the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) (SCT), and the Northern California TRACON (NCT). We conducted this review at the request of Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Senator Feinstein expressed concerns to our office about potential shortages of trained and experienced controllers at these locations, which are among the busiest facilities within the National Airspace System. As FAA begins hiring and training nearly 17,000 new controllers nationwide through 2017, it must focus on training new controllers to the certified professional controller (CPC) level at major locations such as these while maintaining a sufficient number of veteran CPCs. Our audit objective was to evaluate FAA’s plans for ensuring adequate air traffic controller staffing at the three California air traffic control facilities and to offer recommendations as needed. We found that while FAA has taken steps at LAX, SCT, and NCT to offset controller attrition, all three facilities are facing increased numbers of new controllers over the next 2 years. FAA must take several actions in the four following areas to maximize its staffing efforts and maintain enough veteran controllers at these facilities: (1) make SCT and NCT a top priority in the Agency’s ongoing efforts to validate staffing ranges at large TRACON facilities, (2) expand the use of relocation and retention incentives to maintain a cadre of experienced controllers at LAX and SCT, (3) provide enough instructors and other training resources at all three facilities to handle the influx of new controllers, and (4) ensure appropriate use of overtime hours, which increased significantly at all three facilities over the last 2 years. These actions are particularly critical at SCT, which is facing the most significant staffing issues. SCT is FAA’s busiest TRACON, has the highest percentage of existing and planned new controllers of the three facilities, and has experienced a sharp decline in CPCs over the last 5 years. A significant issue is that SCT expects to have over 100 controllers in training later this year––which is more than 40 percent of its workforce and could overwhelm SCT’s training capacity. That percentage will also far exceed FAA’s overall national average of 27 percent of a facility’s controller workforce in training.