Since 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired 15,000 striking air traffic controllers, the profession has undergone waves of shortages. As of 2015, the number of ATCs in the field hit a 27-year-low, so in 2016, the FAA sought to hire 1,400 new controllers. The desire for more ATCs led to the removal of restrictions on the profession, so applicants no longer need aviation or military experience. Thus, most new controllers now being hired have no previous air traffic control experience, a significant change from several years ago. The training process regulators have used for some time, which operated under the assumption that applicants had some aviation experience, is insufficient given the rapidly changing demographics of the controller workforce.
One of the primary goals of technical training and development programs is to ensure that air traffic controllers have all the necessary skills and behaviors to perform their jobs effectively and maintain the safety of the NAS. The amount of time needed to train new air traffic controllers, however, has led to a shrinkage in supply, along with the low entry-level salaries for the position.
Regulators are creating an Air Traffic Basics exam to be offered at approved testing centers. Selectees for training would be required to take the exam within six months before attending training at an approved academy. A minimum score of 70 percent would be required to pass the exam and begin formal training. Besides these exams, in 2014, an online biographical questionnaire was added to the screening process, including questions completely unrelated to the field. These new measures screened out several top applicants from air traffic controller schools, and the FAA refused to explain their new presence. Longitudinal study should be conducted to determine the predictive value of the entrant background suitability.
- Recruits may lack instinctive knowledge of aviation and flying found in retirees as a result of their aviation-related avocations (hobbies).
- Process for selecting and placing new controllers does not sufficiently evaluate candidates’ aptitudes because certain regulators do not effectively use screening test results or consider candidates’ training performance to help determine facility placement. As a result, new controller candidates—many of which have no prior air traffic control experience—are being assigned to some of the busiest air traffic control facilities with little consideration of whether they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to become certified controllers at those locations. (http://www.oig.dot.gov/library-item/5306)
- Classroom lecture and testing process will make it easy to learn new material in order to pass the next test, and then forget the information learned – this is described as the “learn and dump” approach to training.