Air traffic control lacking
An audit finds DIA is among 13 centers that are understaffed.
Denver International Airport has one of 13 air traffic control centers across the country that lack enough qualified controllers, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report, an audit by the Office of Inspector General for the U. S. Department of Transportation, found that trainees often were used to reach minimum staff levels for certified controllers.
The Denver Terminal Radar and Approach Control facility, or TRACON, is responsible for separating aircraft flying in the area surrounding the airport. The DIA control tower handles landings and takeoffs.
The Denver TRACON was recorded in October 2014 as having 55 certified controllers and 13 trainees. Combined, those 68 did not meet the minimum standard set by the Federal Aviation Administration for DIA, which is 70 to 85 controllers.
Denver’s air traffic control tower, with a minimum staffing requirement of 36, was recorded as having appropriate staff, with 36 certified controllers and five trainees.
“Disagreement exists over how to account for the contribution of trainees to actual facility operations,” said the report, which was published this month. “Some
managers agreed that trainees contribute, while others indicated that the training resources and on- the- job training requirements for trainees limit their contribution as a staffing resource.”
According to the Office of Labor Analysis and the National Academy of Sciences, which are cited in the report, “partially qualified trainees working individually contribute about 13 percent of all time- on- position.”
A DIA spokesman said Tuesday the airport could not comment on the report because it does not hire controllers.
The FAA hires controllers, but agency officials did not answer specific questions about how that is managed in Denver. The FAA said in a written statement that it is making improvements.
“The agency is now centrally managing staffing at the national level to maximize the overall benefits for all facilities,” according to its statement. “As part of that process, the FAA is expediting employee transfers fromwell- staffed facilities to those needing additional personnel. The FAA also recently concluded research on how controllers do their jobs that will help improve overall staffing standards.”
The inspector general’s report also questioned the FAA’s system for establishing staffing ranges and balancing training requirements with upcoming retirements. While an employee can provide short notice for retirement, training new controllers can take up to three years.
In Denver’s understaffed TRACON facility, seven of the 55 certified controllers were recorded as eligible for retirement.
“FAA does not have the data or an effective model in place to fully and accurately identify how many controllers FAA needs to maintain efficiency without compromising safety,” the audit’s conclusion states. “Without better models and more direct communication ... FAA will continue to face challenges in ensuring FAA’s critical facilities are well staffed, especially as more controllers retire.”
The audit was done as a follow- up to a 2012 report that found the FAA was facing a potential shortage of certified professional controllers, in part because of large numbers of retirements.
In another, more recent, audit, also by the inspector general’s office, the FAA was criticized for doubling its spending over two decades, while productivity decreased and improvement efforts failed.