Media Shine Spotlight on Bizarre FAA Controller Hiring Plan, Reason Foundation

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #114

Robert Poole
June 27, 2014

In the February issue of this newsletter I broke the story of the FAA’s abrupt shift in recruiting candidates for training as new controllers. Instead of giving priority to about 3,000 graduates of FAA-approved ATC curriculum at the 36 colleges that are members of the Collegiate Training Institute, it announced two major changes starting early this year. First, all controller recruitment would be “off the street,” and second, the initial step would be for all applicants to fill out and pass a “Biographical Questionnaire” aimed at recruiting a more-diverse workforce. Despite widespread dismay and anger on the part of CTI faculty and graduates, the agency went ahead with this plan. And as feared by CTI graduates, large numbers of them “failed” the BQ (with no explanation of why) and could not proceed any further, calling into question the money spent and two to four years they have invested in hopes of becoming controllers.

Until recently, the major media had ignored this story. But on May 23rd, the Wall Street Journal‘s Susan Carey published “FAA Closes a Hiring Runway,” reporting on the situation and quoting both faculty and graduates about this abrupt and inexplicable change of course. That opened the floodgates. Chicago Tribune transportation reporter John Hilkevitch followed up with and in-depth article on May 27th. These two stories were enough to stimulate many local newspapers and television stations to cover the story. A particularly well-done example is the five-minute piece aired by ABC’s 7News in Denver on June 2nd. If it is still online by the time you read this, I urge you to watch it:

Until recently, the only member of Congress to take an interest in this debacle was Sen. Patty Murray (D, WA), who grilled DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx about it at a March 14thhearing. But in late May, 29 House members, from both parties, sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta complaining about the lack of transparency in the agency’s new hiring program. As far as I’ve been able to determine, there has been no public response from the FAA thus far.

Various former FAA officials I’ve talked with about this issue are appalled by the FAA’s change of course. Among other things, they cited a recommendation by the DOT Inspector General back in 2005 that the hiring process be changed in the opposite direction: that CTI graduates who passed the traditional controller aptitude test be exempted from some or all FAA Academy training and go straight to on-the-job training. Congress urged something similar in the 2012 FAA reauthorization measure. And many experts on the shift to the more technology-intensive NextGen paradigm for air traffic management favor requiring a college degree for all new controllers (which is not required for the new “off-the-street” hiring process).

Congress really should take action to get FAA controller recruitment back on course, eliminating the BQ and re-opening the door to CTI graduates.

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