Casey, Toomey, Rothfus Urge FAA to Give Fair Consideration to Community College of Beaver County Air Traffic Control Candidates Following Policy Change, Senate

New FAA Policy Changes How Candidates Are Considered for Air Traffic Control Positions / Change Could Impact Highly Skilled Beaver County Students Who Participate in Specialized Program / Program At Community College of Beaver County Produces Highly Skilled Air Traffic Controllers that Contribute to Safety

Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Congressman Keith Rothfus (R-PA) urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure that students in the Community College of Beaver County Air Traffic Control program receive fair consider as the FAA implements a new hiring policy. The policy changes could impact how candidates from the program are considered against other applicants who did not attend the Air Traffic Control program in Beaver County or at another community college in the nation. The Beaver County program has a track record of developing highly skilled air traffic controllers that contribute to airline safety.

“The Community College of Beaver County’s Air Traffic Control program has produced highly skilled workers and it’s important that the FAA continue to give these students fair consideration during the hiring process,” Senator Casey said. “Developing high quality air traffic controllers will increase airline safety. I’m urging the FAA to carefully implement this new policy so that graduates of this specialized training program can continue to compete for positions”

“The Community College of Beaver County has excelled in producing top notch air traffic controllers,” said Senator Toomey.  “As a pilot, I am keenly aware of the role quality air traffic controllers play in promoting safety in air travel.  With this in mind, I hope the FAA will be mindful of the important role educational institutions such as the Community College of Beaver County play in increasing air safety and allows qualified candidates to maintain their eligibility for open air traffic controller positions.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Administrator Huerta,

We are writing regarding the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) new policy for evaluating Air Traffic Control (ATC) candidates announced in December 2013.  Thank you in advance for your consideration of our views.

It is our understanding that the policy change alters the manner in which the FAA considers a candidate’s past participation in an Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program.  We are advised that under the previous policy, AT-CTI students were considered separately from other applicants due, in part, to the specialized training students enrolled in AT-CTI programs receive.  As the FAA moves forward with implementation of this policy change, we believe it is critical that the benefits associated with AT-CTI training be fully taken into account.

As you know, the AT-CTI program arose from a partnership between the FAA and colleges, universities, and trade schools and is designed to help prepare graduating students for ATC careers. Aspiring ATC specialists from around the country have enrolled in this program intending to develop the requisite skills and qualifications necessary for obtaining a position upon graduation. These students come from a variety of backgrounds and study at 36 diverse institutions nationwide and have made a commitment to ATC careers by dedicating time and resources to take part in AT-CTI.

As you evaluate the newly-implemented policy, we ask that you take into account the benefits of AT-CTI training and the work that is being done at places like the Community College of Beaver County, which is home to Pennsylvania’s only AT-CTI program.  The Community College of Beaver County has developed a reputation for excellence and has a proven track record of developing highly skilled air traffic controllers. Given the historical partnership between the AT-CTI program and the FAA, and its importance to many Pennsylvanians, we respectfully request that you consider the intense and successful training programs that are going on in places like Beaver County as you implement this new policy.

We appreciate your time and attention to this matter, and we hope to hear from you soon.


Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator

Pat Toomey
United States Senator

Keith Rothfus
Member of Congress

FAA Introduces New Hiring Requirements for Air Traffic Controllers, Fox

Jason Bigler has spent the past two years at Sacramento City College’s aeronautics department, preparing to become an air traffic controller.

Time he and his classmates may have wasted now that the Federal Aviation Administration has changed its hiring process.

“It appears that military experience, CTI program aviation experience in general, played a part,” Bigler said.

In fact, Professor Scott Miller’s entire class at McClellan Airfield may have been preparing for the wrong type of test. It used to be that people like Bigler would have to finish his schooling, and take the AT-SAT, the test to screen air traffic controllers.

But now the FAA says to apply for the job, there’s no experience necessary.

“The students that had completed the program and graduated, they were told that those scores would be disregarded and they would have to apply off the street like everyone else,” Miller said.

Starting this year, the FAA only requires students to pass a biographical questionnaire, which Bigler said has little to do with aviation.

“There were questions in there about your time in high school, what kind of sports you played,” Bigler said.

While the FAA isn’t explaining the change, Miller and other critics believe it has to do with a recent FAA study citing lack of diversity.

“The two year schools, like Sacramento City College, which is very proud of its diversity, was not considered as part of its study,” Miller said.

And few of Miller’s qualified students are passing that questionnaire. In fact out of all of Miller’s 38 students, the only one to pass that questionnaire was Bigler.

“Not in the slightest, I have no idea (what I said differently than the other students),” Bigler said.

Meanwhile the FAA released this statement:

“In 2013, the FAA reviewed the end-to-end process of hiring and assigning air traffic control specialists. As a result, in order to recruit a better qualified candidate and reduce costs associated with testing and training, the FAA chose to make several improvements to the way it selects, trains, and assigns air traffic controllers.  Improvements were made to enhance decision making and increase objectivity in the assessment of candidates.

“The selection process for new air traffic controllers was very competitive.

“In the course of two weeks, we received over 28,000 applications for 1,700 positions. We expect to hire additional controllers next year and have encouraged those not selected to reapply then,” said Ian Gregor, Public Affairs Manager for the FAA Pacific Division.”

FAA Introduces New Hiring Requirements for Air Traffic Controllers

Mikulski, Cardin Call on FAA to Honor Commitment to Baltimore Air Traffic Control Students, Congress – Apr 19,2014 – Mikulski, Cardin Call on FAA to Honor Commitment to Baltimore Air Traffic Control Students

Recent changes to the FAA’s hiring requirements could disqualify highly-educated candidates that have heavily invested in careers with the FAA

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) announced that they have called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to honor its commitment to active students and recent graduates of Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) preparing to be part of FAA’s Air Traffic Controller workforce. Recent changes made under the FAA’s A Plan For The Future could disqualify highly-trained recent graduates that have invested their time and money for future careers as Air Traffic Controllers with the FAA.

Maryland’s Community College of Baltimore (CCBC) is home to one of thirty-six schools across the county that offers the CTI program, graduating more than 120 students a year. More than 42 percent of these graduates are female or minority students.

“Students and recent graduates of the CCBC CTI program have expressed to us their concern that the new hiring process outlined in A Plan for the Future may prevent them from securing employment as an air traffic controller after they have invested thousands of dollars in tuition and countless hours into school and training,” the Senators wrote. “Their expectation upon entering the CTI program was that their hard work would result in being hired as an air traffic controller. We do not want these hard-working and qualified graduates to be bypassed and not given the due consideration they expected upon entering the CTI program.”

In 2013, the FAA began a complete overhaul to its hiring process under the A Plan For The Future program in an effort to help diversify its current Air Traffic Controller Workforce. Under the new guidelines, the FAA will no longer favor graduates from the CTI program, but will instead heavily rely on a “Biographical Questionnaire” in its hiring process. These changes have raised concerns among current students and recent graduates of CTI programs who will no longer be given credit for having previously received intensive training to become Air Traffic Controllers.

The letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta follows:

April 14, 2014

Mr. Michael Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591

Dear Administrator Huerta:

We are writing to express our support for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to diversify the Air Traffic Controller workforce so that it better reflects America. At the same time, we want to seek clarification on the impact these changes may have on current students and recent graduates of Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) programs.

Maryland’s Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) is home to one of the 36 CTI schools across the country. The CCBC CTI program graduates an average of 120 students per year and provides the FAA with a diverse pool of air traffic controller candidates, with the yearly average student population represented by 42 percent female or minority students.

Students and recent graduates

of the CCBC CTI program have expressed to us their concern that the new hiring process outlined in A Plan for the Future may prevent them from securing employment as an air traffic controller after they have invested thousands of dollars in tuition and countless hours into school and training. Their expectation upon entering the CTI program was that their hard work would result in being hired as an air traffic controller. We do not want these hard-working and qualified graduates to be bypassed and not given the due consideration they expected upon entering the CTI program.

We heartily support your efforts to attract qualified minorities into the air traffic controller workforce and request that you help the student who are currently in the pipeline understand what changes have been made, how these changes will benefit the air traffic controller workforce, and how the changes will impact their applications. We also request that you give the current students and recent graduates, who entered the program before this hiring change took effect, greater consideration throughout the air traffic controller application process.


Barbara Mikulski
United States Senator

Ben Cardin
United States Senator

Air traffic students at Mt. SAC in Walnut tell congresswoman FAA diversity rules are unfair, SGV Tribune

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano listens to Mt. SAC Collegiate Training Initiative students on Thursday explain how they followed a two-year course of study for air traffic controller and passed an FAA test only to be rejected after being informed by email that they failed a biographical questionnaire. New FAA rules are stopping many highly qualified aeronautical graduates from the Walnut campus from getting jobs as air traffic controllers. Leo Jarzomb — Staff Photographer

New FAA rules stopping Mt. SAC students from getting jobs as air traffic controllers, SGV Tribune


Veteran Chris Schneider worked as an air traffic controller in the Air Force. He went back to school and earned a degree in aviation science from Mt. San Antonio College, carrying a 3.48 GPA. He passed the government’s aptitude exam.

But even though he can guide an F-16 onto a dusty landing strip, he is not a good candidate for air traffic controller and his application was rejected, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and his teachers.

He will have to re-apply in 2015, they said.

Schneider is one of thousands of college students in the U.S. spending hours staring into airplane-control simulators who are being turned away from jobs as air traffic controllers because they can’t pass a biographical questionnaire.

The new 62-question test was added as a screening device in January “in order to recruit a better qualified candidate,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor in a written statement. But aeronautics professors and one U.S. senator say the new FAA screening method is unfair to students studying under the old rules. It could lead to dangerous conditions for the nation’s air travelers if less-qualified men and women receive preference over college-trained applicants, they say.

“Under this new system, it is not very far off when we will have controllers who know less and less about the system,” said Steve Shackelford, a professor at Mt. SAC, the largest community college in the state, and a former air traffic controller.

Shackelford said there is no longer a requirement for a high school degree.

The FAA wants to hire at least 1,000 air traffic controllers a year, up to 10,000 new positions, to meet demand left by an aging workforce. Air traffic controllers must leave their jobs when they reach age 56.

At first, this was good news for the 35 schools in the country with Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) programs, who’ve invested millions in computer simulators and instructors from the field.

That changed for Mt. SAC, one of only two AT-CTI programs in the state, the other being Sacramento City College, on Dec. 30, 2013 when the FAA said it would add the new test. About 92 percent of AT-CTI students have failed the biographical questionnaire (BQ), even those who passed the FAA’s aptitude exam, said Professor Robert Rogus, co-chairman of the Aeronautics Department.

Rogus says the FAA means well but is going about it backward. The BQ screens out qualified applicants. He said they should first assess aptitude, then personal characteristics.

“It’s all good that the FAA wants to hire 10,000 people. What is not good is the BQ is too restrictive. The applicant never gets to the next step,” Rogus said.

Students are not told why they are not ready for the job, he said. “They don’t know why. There is no feedback. There is no rationale,” he added.

During the open hire period in February and March, 28,000 applicants took the test and only 2,200 passed, said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington during a recent Senate hearing.

“Nobody understands what this biographical questionnaire is evaluating. The rates of failure … is very concerning,” she told U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx who appeared at the hearing.

Murray said the new rules are preventing veterans from getting jobs as air traffic controllers.

Some say the new rules are to bring more minorities into the job.

“What we have found is the group of folks who apply to the FAA for air traffic controller positions tend to be rather limited. In this instance, the FAA took an opportunity to do a broader opening, to try to get a larger universe of applicants into the program,” Foxx said during the hearing.

Local Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte, will visit the Mt. SAC flight controller program and meet with teachers and students Thursday morning, said her spokesman Jerry O’Donnell. She did not return calls Tuesday.

The test questions often provide ambiguous choices, Rogus said, with no objective answers. For example, Question No. 14 asks: “I would rather be known as a person who is very a. determined, b. respectful.” Another question in the section asks: “I am more: a. eager, b. considerate.”

Gregor wrote that the new test measures the job applicants’ characteristics that have been shown to predict success as an air traffic controller. He also said the FAA continues to consider education and hands-on experience.

Rogus and others say the system was not broken, so why fix it.

The Mt. SAC program has been in existence since 1946 and attracts students from Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley to Orange County and out of state. Twenty percent of all the air traffic controllers on the job today are graduates of the program, Rogus said.

He is scratching his head as to why his top students suddenly are not deemed eligible for a job with the FAA, especially when the agency needs to fill positions.

“It is baffling to us,” he said.

— Staff Writer Richard Irwin @richirwinSGVN contributed to this story.

FAA Closes a Hiring Runway for Air-Traffic Controllers, WSJ

Colleges, Students Balk as Agency Ends an Inside Track

For years, aspiring air-traffic controllers in the U.S. have enrolled in schools selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to offer special courses that could smooth the way for a job at the agency.

Sen. Murray Challenges FAA’s “Biographical Test” for New Controllers, Reason Foundation

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #111

Robert Poole
March 19, 2014

Sen. Murray Challenges FAA’s “Biographical Test” for New Controllers

In a March 14th hearing of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Patty Murray (D, WA) asked probing questions of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about the FAA’s new controller recruitment effort (about which I wrote last month). Sen. Murray noted the plight of more than 3,000 graduates of the FAA-sponsored Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program who have invested years and many thousands of dollars obtaining degrees in aviation and air traffic control. Under the new approach implemented last month, they no longer have first shot at controller training positions. Instead, they must compete with thousands of off-the-street applicants who are required to have no more than a high-school diploma or three years of any kind of work experience.

Even more troubling to her is the requirement that applicants pass a “biographical questionnaire” (BQ) in order to be considered for an opening in the training program. She noted that of the 28,000 people who applied, only 2,200 passed the BQ. Numerous knowledgeable CTI graduates failed the BQ, but cannot find out why. How can this be, she asked Sec. Foxx. The Secretary gave a pretty general reply, saying the agency had noticed that the group of people who apply for controller training “tend to be rather limited,” and that the aim of the new procedure is to try to recruit from a larger population. CTI graduates, he said, will have a leg up during the training—but of course that’s only possible if they have passed the BQ.

Sen. Murray was having none of this. She repeated her concern about highly qualified CTI applicants being turned away due to the BQ, and said that controllers union NATCA is also concerned about this. Nobody understands what the BQ is supposed to measure, or why people are failing. Foxx said that he will have FAA Administrator Michael Huerta respond directly to her on these matters. Just to be sure, the Senator repeated that she wants to find out:

  • Why such a small fraction of applicants are passing the BQ;
  • The current status of the CTI program; and,
  • What this new process is adding to the caliber of the controller workforce. (

Since I wrote last month’s story on this major change in controller recruitment, I have learned that some senior people in the Air Traffic Organization had planned on making CTI the primary source of applicants, and were even considering exempting those CTI graduates who passed the traditional aptitude test from some or all of the training at the FAA Academy (which would save the FAA money). This approach was first suggested by the DOT Inspector General in 2005, and was urged on FAA by Congress in the 2012 reauthorization bill. But now FAA has done just the opposite. From everything I can tell, the new recruitment approach was thought up by the FAA Human Resources department, not the ATO, and therefore does not represent ATO thinking on the best way to ensure a highly qualified 21st century NextGen workforce.

Controversy Over FAA Controller Hiring and Training, Reason Foundation

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #110

The ATC cross-subsidy dilemma, Controversy over controller hiring and training, Another real-time aviation weather project

Robert Poole
February 4, 2014

Despite thousands of air traffic controllers being eligible to retire over the next few years, the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City has been closed for the past year due to FAA budget problems. As a result, several thousand graduates of two-year and four-year ATC courses at FAA-approved colleges and universities have bided their time on an FAA waiting list, waiting until the agency decided to resume training. But within the past month, FAA has shifted gears, dumped all those applications, and announced plans to recruit candidates “off the street.” Needless to say, those graduates and their schools are up in arms over this—and thereby hangs quite a tale.

Back in 1997 FAA began a program called the Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI), under which it recruited colleges and universities to offer degree courses in air traffic control. Participating schools were told that their graduates would become the primary hiring source for new controllers. Prior to this, applicants were recruited “off the street,” with the only requirements being a high school diploma or three years of work experience. With ATC becoming more and more high-tech, it made sense that FAA sought to increase the competence, knowledge level, and educational level of its NextGen-oriented controller workforce.

In 2005, the DOT Inspector General’s office released a study titled “FAA Has Opportunities to Reduce Academy Training Time and Costs by Increasing Educational Requirements for Newly Hired Air Traffic Controllers” (AV-2006-021, Dec. 7, 2005). The idea was for FAA to shift portions of the coursework taught at the Academy to the CTI schools, and make those courses a prerequisite for employment as a controller. This was consistent with declared policy that CTI graduates would be the primary source of new controllers. The report also pointed out that many professional positions within the federal government require a degree in their area of expertise as a condition of employment. Several former senior officials of the Air Traffic Organization strongly supported this idea when I asked them about it.

But FAA did not take this advice, so in the 2012 FAA reauthorization act, Congress asked the GAO to review the potential cost savings and benefits of shifting basically all the Academy coursework to the 36 CTI schools. Its preliminary report (GAO-12-996R) found that a proper cost-effectiveness analysis of this proposal depended on several cost elements that were not known at that time. It promised further work, with FAA involvement, to be reported on in 2013. But GAO tells me that they stopped work on the project due to FAA plans to pilot-test shifting controller training from the Academy to CTI schools, a plan that FAA has apparently dropped, given what follows.

Due to the 2013 Academy shut-down, between 3,000 and 3,500 CTI graduates were on the FAA waiting list, hoping for the restart of hiring that would send them to the FAA Academy for (partly redundant) coursework, followed by several years of on-the-job training in a tower, TRACON, or en-route center. But in January, all hell broke loose.

Rumors had already been circulating in December that FAA was instead going to issue a general public (“off the street”) announcement early in 2014. CTI schools and graduates were puzzled and upset over why the agency would do this when it already had thousands of college graduates ready to go. The answer turned out to be “diversity.” In a rational world, the FAA Air Traffic Organization would define its controller selection and training requirements, and based on the events recounted above, would very likely have gone with the CTI graduates, even while resisting (for the usual bureaucratic reasons) substituting CTI coursework for Academy coursework. But thanks to the “one FAA” policy instituted in recent years, the ATO depends for its support services on the parent organization—in this case, the FAA Human Resources department.

Last month the FAA HR department informed various diversity organizations about its new FAA Air Traffic Controller Recruitment Campaign. Of course the news leaked and was soon common knowledge to all the CTI schools and their graduates. On Feb. 10th, a 10-day campaign will be launched inviting anyone with a high school diploma or three years of work experience to apply. CTI graduates must re-apply under this program in order to be considered. All applicants must pass two tests in order to be accepted—the normal ATC aptitude test (AT-SAT) and a “biographical test.” The latter is widely believed to be an effort to identify indicators of minority group status.

Previous FAA reports have praised the CTI schools for recruiting and graduating minority candidates, but the resulting numbers graduating from the Academy apparently do not satisfy those running the FAA HR department. While I’ve been inundated with material that is circulating among CTI schools, I decided to see if their concerns about the HR department were shared by other knowledgeable people. I interviewed two retired senior officials of the Air Traffic Organization, both of whom confirmed the CTI assessment. Among the comments from one of them: “This has always been a huge issue for the ATO. HR has total control and generally ignored any ATO input. The atmosphere between HR and ATO was really bad when I was there. Sounds like it is not any different now.”

Where this will end up I have no idea. But it appears to me that a very valuable contribution to better controller selection and training is at risk of being discarded. And that is yet another reason why we need an independent, self-supporting ATO with its own HR staff, accountable to its stakeholder board.

CTI Student Saves Life, Passenger forced to land plane meets his ‘co-pilots’, CNN

*Lisa Grimm, who is now a FAA manager at the Pittsburgh facility is a graduate of Miami-Dade CC’s CTI program. 

Orlando, Florida (CNN) — “These people saved my family from an almost certain fiery death.”

Doug White speaks highly of the air traffic controllers and flight instructor who helped talk him through landing a plane last year after the pilot died.

He and his family finally met the team last week, after they received the highest honor from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at a ceremony in Orlando, Florida.

In April 2009, White, 56, and his wife and their two daughters were returning to Louisiana after attending a funeral for White’s brother. Less than 10 minutes after their private chartered plane took off from Marco Island, Florida, the unexpected happened.

“I’ve got to declare an emergency. My pilot’s deceased. I need help,” White told the control tower. He had seized the radio after the pilot had fallen unconscious. “I need to get this on the ground. I’m flyin’ a King Air.”

Luckily, White had three months of flight lessons, but he had flown only a small, less-sophisticated single-engine plane. That’s like going from a Volkswagen to a race car, he said.

In the background of their conversation, dozens of controllers were scrambling to reroute flights while Fort Myers International Airport prepared to accept the plane.

“Disengage the autopilot. We’re gonna have you hand-fly the plane,” instructed controller and experienced pilot Lisa Grimm said.

“You find me the longest, widest runway you can, ma’am,” White responded in a deadpan Louisiana twang.

Controllers in Fort Myers reached out to flight instructor and pilot Kari Sorenson, who was familiar with the King Air plane.

At last week’s reunion, Sorenson said he relayed through the controllers only the most critical information needed to get the plane safely on the ground.

White jokingly accused Sorenson of withholding some information.

“Would you want to have heard it?” Sorensen joked back.

Sorensen had high praise for White’s maneuvering of the twin-engine plane.

“Doug learned to fly that plane in 20 minutes,” Sorensen said. “I don’t think you could have made the plane more complex or the pilot less experienced and have had a successful landing.”

Grimm said she remembered White’s steady demeanor through the whole incident.

“He was like the coolest cucumber,” she said.

Shortly after the pilot slumped over in his seat, White yelled for his wife to come up to the cockpit.

Terry White recalled that she was initially annoyed with her husband’s tone, thinking he wanted her to bring him a soda.

Once she realized the gravity of the situation, “my first thought was my girls,” she said.

At one point, Doug White held out his hand, and Terry said, “You’re not even shaking … and [he] said, ‘I am on the inside.’

“That’s just the way he is,” she said.

There were times, White admitted, when he got nervous.

“I thought they were leaving me out there stranded,” White said. “And it’s real quiet in that airplane when nobody’s talking to you.”

His teenage daughter Maggie White said she felt helpless.

“I mean, what could I do? Nothing, just sit there and pray and, you know, throw up,” she said.

White said he felt a bond with the team of air traffic controllers, as if they had been in combat together.

The White family was shocked to learn during the reunion that they were given only a 5 percent chance of surviving.

The Louisiana pharmacist has gone on to receive his pilot’s license, saying he never wants to be in the same situation again.

“If you’re gonna die, at least die trying not to,” Doug White said.