"Controller Hiring Plan"
Marion C. Blakey, Washington, D.C.
March 7, 2007

Media Briefing

Good morning. We’re here to release the latest version of the FAA’s plan to hire controllers. Each year we update this plan to reflect the latest data in traffic and controller retirements. We’re on track in addressing the challenge. We have enough controllers in the pipeline. We’re hard at it to make sure that it stays that way. Our goal is to have the right number of people in the right place at the right time.

A few years ago, Congress asked the FAA to report on what we’re doing to be ready for the controller retirements that were coming. The expected increase in retirements has begun, and this plan addresses it specifically. We knew it was coming. We planned for it. And we’re getting it done.

With that said, we’ve got good news. Today’s report contains a facility-by-facility breakdown of the staffing numbers. We haven’t had that before. In ’06, we planned to hire 930 controllers. When we saw more turnover than projected — 1,038 controllers as compared to our plan of 800 — we adjusted. We ratcheted up the hiring to 1,116 and ended the year with 14,618 controllers on board. We were only slightly below our goal last year — less than one percent — and we’re back where we need to be hiring-wise in this fiscal year already.

It’s important to keep our eye on the larger picture. We have more than 300 federal air traffic control facilities. Knowing that situations change — not just with our people — but with the traffic loads as well, we staff our facilities according to current trends based on current workload — not those of five years ago. It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.

We’ve also updated our training methods and increased the number of classes scheduled at the FAA’s air traffic control academy. We’re using internal bids and moving people upward from smaller facilities to larger ones. We’re moving experienced controllers to more complex facilities. We’re hiring military controllers and placing them in more complex facilities. In short, we’re pushing to get applicants and controllers from every source, from everywhere we can.

We’re also targeting the facilities that we need to. For example, at the SoCal TRACON, we have 31 controllers coming aboard this year. We’re working smarter and harder at getting people where they need to be. The Inspector General is saying some good things about our plan, and goodness knows that’s not easy to come by.

For the last several years, NATCA has talked a lot about “authorized” staffing levels in the 1998 contract. Let’s be clear. Those numbers were negotiated, were not tied to traffic levels, and are no longer in effect. The authorized numbers are what you’re going to hear right now. The numbers in this plan are the only official authorized staffing numbers with respect to air traffic control. Reporting on that old set of numbers is no different than using a weather forecast from 1998. As accurate or flawed as that forecast might have been, no one would use it to make plans for today and certainly not for tomorrow.

Before I close, one other thing: the suggestion by NATCA that no one wants to be a controller anymore just doesn’t pass the straight face test. A new controller makes $50,000 in cash compensation after about a year and that almost doubles to $94,000 in about five years. We’re not having difficulty recruiting and attracting new controllers. Quite the contrary.

In closing, I must emphasize that the situation we’re in — staffing our facilities — is dynamic, fluid. It changes, as you would expect. Well, we planned for this. Our plan is equally dynamic and just as fluid. I’m confident that with respect to staffing, overtime, attrition, and training, this plan is effective. It will get us where we need to go.