FAA Continues To Face Challenges in Ensuring Enough Fully Trained Controllers at Critical Facilities
Ensuring adequate staffing and training for air traffic controllers is essential to maintain the efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS), especially at the Nation’s most critical air traffic facilities. Our 2012 report found that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needed to enhance oversight of staffing and training to maintain continuity of air traffic operations at these facilities. We also reported that these facilities were facing a potential shortage of certified professional controllers (CPCs).
Our follow-up review, required by the 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act, found that FAA’s controller staffing levels at many of its most critical facilities are generally consistent with the Agency’s Controller Workforce Plan (CWP); however, concerns exist about the validity of the staffing plan. Some facilities appear overstaffed, while others have fewer controllers than the CWP states they need. This is partially because FAA’s CWP contains weaknesses in how it determines the number of controllers needed, particularly for en route centers. In addition, FAA has not yet established an effective process for balancing training requirements with pending retirements when managing its controller resources at its critical facilities. FAA relies on historical retirement data to anticipate retirements, but controllers can retire with little notice, leaving an individual critical facility facing an unexpected shortage. Moreover, training outcomes vary widely, and it can take more than 3 years to train a replacement controller for these complex facilities.
We made two recommendations to improve FAA’s ability to ensure adequate staffing at its most critical air traffic control facilities. FAA fully concurred with one recommendation and partially concurred with the other. We consider these recommendations resolved but open until FAA’s planned actions are completed.