Although the details of ATCS training have evolved as new air traffic control systems have been fielded or different types of training have become available, the general training methodology has not changed for decades. For example, potential controllers are hired for a particular domain, complete initial qualification training at the FAA Academy, get sent to a particular facility, and then complete extensive training that includes classroom, simulation, and on-the-job training (OJT). It normally takes two to three years (depending on the domain) for a new hire to become a Certified Professional Controller (CPC), a figure that FAA believes can be greatly reduced.
Additionally, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in June 2006, within the coming decade the FAA expects to attrite approximately 10,000 ATCS due to voluntary retirements or mandatory retirements at age 56. Many of these retirements result from the rapid hiring practices instituted by FAA from 1981 through 1991. In order to maintain a high level of air traffic control service, the FAA must successfully meet its future staffing requirements for newly trained air traffic controllers.
The ATCOTS program released a problem statement in June of 2006. The reasons for establishing the ATCOTS program are as follows:
- The current certification process for controllers is long and costly.
- The methodology for training controllers has not evolved in several years.
- The existing training contract mechanisms are not structured to promote continuous improvement.
- The FAA is continuing to become a performance-based organization.
- There are continuing concerns by stakeholders on FAA’s ability to plan for retiring air traffic controller workforce.
- The evolving technology will require flexible and different skill sets.