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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.

Potential hazard

  1. Recruits may lack instinctive knowledge of aviation and flying found in retirees as a result of their aviation-related avocations (hobbies).
  2. 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. (
  3. 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.

Corroborating sources and comments

2013 – Reports from The Boeing Company and the International Civil Aviation Organization that point to an anticipated shortage in skilled aviation maintenance professionals are good news. Both reports predict that as global economies grow, tens of thousands of new commercial jetliners are produced and skilled workers retire, the demand for trained aviation maintenance technicians will also grow exponentially. In fact, Boeing anticipates more than 600,000 airline maintenance technicians will be needed worldwide by 2031. Redstone College, one of the nation’s premier technical and aviation schools, works directly with organizations like the FAA and Lockheed Martin to help fill this need. Redstone College works in partnership with the FAA, as well as companies like Lockheed Martin, to build its curriculum to meet the demands of highly technical and demanding careers in airframe & power plant (A&P) and advanced electronics/avionics (aviation electronics). More than 50 percent of the time students spend takes place in a sophisticated lab environment where students receive hands-on training that prepares them to hit the ground running once they are hired.

FAA Independent Review Panel on the Selection, Assignment and Training of Air Traffic Control Specialists;

Review of Screening, Placement, and Initial Training of Newly Hired Air Traffic Controllers – April 1, 2010, (site not responsive)

FAA 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce

2011 – 2020; (Not only is there a pilot shortage, but there seems to be an air traffic controller shortage. As of 2015, the number of ATCs hit a 27-year low, and in 2016, the FAA sought to hire 1,400 new controllers. Starting salaries only went as far as $38,000 a year, with part-time positions offering between $22,888 and $28,626, so pay could be a concern; median salaries for the position are upwards of $130,000.) (Since 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired 15,000 striking air traffic controllers, the profession has undergone waves of shortages. Many ATCs are also approaching retirement age, meaning the crunch is on to find replacements. Sequestration and training time have also negatively impacted controller supply.) (Part of the present issue stems from FAA hiring changes made in 2014. An online biographical questionnaire was added to the screening process, including questions about athletics and high-school course loads; with these new measures, the FAA ended up rejecting many promising candidates from Air Traffic Controller programming. Some speculate that the FAA is looking for increased diversity, but they haven’t outright commented on the questionnaire’s nature.) (In 2014, the FAA lifted restrictions on prospective ATCs, saying that they no longer needed military or aviation experience to apply. The goal was to increase the prospects for new hires, by removing barriers to entry. However, it didn’t help with the problem of inexperienced air traffic controllers.)

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