For Immediate Release

Release No. AOC 02-06
January 25, 2006
Contact: Greg Martin
Phone: (202) 267-3883

New Management Controls Save Taxpayers $1.4 million


WASHINGTON, DC – Just six months after eliminating artificially inflated overtime schedules at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, the FAA has saved $1.4 million and air traffic controller errors are down 75 percent. Separately, an independent analysis of the facility’s staffing level confirmed that the New York TRACON has more controllers than current regional air traffic volumes require.

“The New York TRACON needed a course correction,” said FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey. “We’re working hard to maintain the highest levels of safety while making sure tax payer dollars are spent responsibly. That push—achieving greater safety performance while operating more like a business—is what’s driving the changes we are making at the New York TRACON.”

Last June, Blakey directed that new management controls at the New York TRACON be implemented after the agency completed a 60-day on-site investigation of the facility. The investigation was conducted after receiving anonymous reports of operational errors at the facility. These errors were reported within days after management at the facility began taking actions to curtail abuses identified by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General. The investigation found that local union-controlled scheduling practices artificially inflated overtime. At the time of the investigation, overtime costs at the TRACON were more than double any other air traffic control facility in the country. The investigation also found that safety was never jeopardized.

As a result of the investigation, the FAA canceled previous local agreements that lead to excessive overtime and implemented a more efficient schedule that evenly distributes days off and available staff to match aircraft traffic. To reduce the number of operational errors, the agency implemented stronger quality assurance programs, supervision and training. The FAA also took steps to ensure a professional environment in the control room and to immediately address threats and intimidation that thwarted previous management attempts to correct wasteful practices.

More efficient scheduling at the TRACON has produced six month taxpayer savings of over $1.4 million. Overtime costs at the facility dropped from $360,000 in June 2005 to just $73,000 in December. Additionally, “time-on-position”—the time air traffic controllers spend on the radar scopes actually guiding airplanes—increased from just over 3 ½ hours to 5 hours, placing the facility almost at the top of large TRACON facilities.

To reduce operational errors, the FAA required that both New York TRACON management and controllers undergo extensive training, including back-to-basics training and mandatory refresher training on aircraft separation standards. The FAA has also conducted frequent, random audits at the New York TRACON to ensure reporting of operational errors at the facility. Since these measures have been put in place, operational errors at the facility have decreased nearly 75 percent from 197 controller errors reported between January and June 2005, to 54 errors reported between July and December.

Also during the last year, the FAA sought independent confirmation of its investigation team’s conclusion that the facility was not understaffed—as the local union contended—but rather overstaffed.

In late 2005, the FAA commissioned MITRE, the government’s federally funded research group, to study staffing levels at the facility. MITRE reviewed staffing methodology, time-on-position, and traffic loads and complexity data. As a result, MITRE determined that the facility is overstaffed and that the appropriate staffing level should be between 163 controllers and 180 controllers. Currently, the facility has 206 fully certified controllers and 11 developmental controllers. Based on these findings, the FAA also will be analyzing staffing numbers at its other major facilities across the country.

The FAA plans to keep in place for an indefinite period of time a special team of safety and human resource specialists to assist facility management to monitor the facility’s ongoing performance and to ensure safety while stronger management controls continue to be implemented. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s office also plans to maintain its presence at the facility.

A copy of the FAA’s progress at the New York TRACON, as well as the agency’s original 2005 investigation, can be viewed at http://www.faa.gov/library/reports/NY_TRACON/.

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