Air traf­fic con­trol lack­ing

An au­dit finds DIA is among 13 cen­ters that are un­der­staffed.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ye­se­nia Robles

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.

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