Students, professor frustrated by new FAA hiring process, Purdue Exponent

  • By ALLIE HASTINGS Summer Reporter

Aviation technology students seeking jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may not have the future they have dreamt about.

On Dec. 30, the FAA changed its hiring process to allow anyone with a high school diploma to apply for air traffic controller positions. Mike Nolan, an aviation technology professor at Purdue, explained that traditionally, the FAA hired its staff from three employment pools: ex-military controllers, the public and college graduates with Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) certificates. For the last two decades, the FAA partnered with 36 universities that offer CTI programs for undergraduates, including Purdue.

Nolan said upon completion of the program, the student’s name would be sent to the FAA and added to a list of potential candidates for air traffic control. However, the new system renders the partnership void.

“For the most part, to work as an air traffic controller you have to work for the FAA,” said Nolan. “There are some private control towers out there, but not enough to be a large source of work, so we’re really talking about working for the FAA.”

Harold Rutila, a senior in the College of Technology, knew he wanted to be an air traffic controller before he even began junior high school. Following the FAA’s advice, Rutila came to Purdue for its CTI program. To enhance his resume, he earned an FAA flight instructor certificate, gained ground operations experience at a hub with a major airline and frequently visited FAA air traffic control facilities to observe controllers while they worked.

However, under the new hiring process, Rutila’s efforts no longer matter.

“The core problem is there was no transition to this new hiring process. My class entered Purdue knowing what the FAA had been advertising and how it had been hiring for years before then,” Rutila said. “I entered Purdue expecting to leave with a CTI certificate that would be acknowledged by the FAA in the same manner it had been acknowledged for decades before, (but) the CTI program, for as long as the latest hiring process remains in place, has no value in the eyes of those conducting hiring at the FAA.”

Once employees are hired by the FAA, they go through a training process that lasts anywhere from two to four years, but is fired if the person fails the training. The new process reduces costs by screening applicants with a biographical assessment that determines whether or not the applicant is “cut out” for the air traffic control position. Nolan referred to the assessment as odd because of the type of questions, such as the applicant’s favorite subject in high school.

“How do you prove what type of background a person should have to be a good anything? How do you do it objectively? Their approach, and it’s not wrong, is ‘Let’s go out in the field and find the people who are doing the job and see what, if anything, they have in common,’” Nolan said.

Some of his recently graduated students with CTI certifications and work experience didn’t make it through the application process not because of their resumes, but because of their scores on the assessment.

As for students still in the program, Rutila said his biggest issue with the FAA is the lack of warning.

“If the CTI program was producing problematic candidates or was costing the FAA too much money, the FAA should have publicly transitioned away from the program, providing those of us already in the program with the same opportunity as those who had participated in it before these changes went into effect,” Rutila said. “The change was made behind closed doors, was released publicly on an otherwise slow news day and was effective immediately.”

Though the partnership between Purdue and the FAA still exists legally, Nolan said all otherwise communication between the two groups has ceased. Despite the loss, Nolan said the courses required for the CTI certificate will still be taught at the University.

“There are still classes and they’re good for students to have. It’s only two courses,” he said.

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