2 Illinois lawmakers seek to dump new FAA controller hiring rules, Chicago Tribune

Jon Hilkevitch


A new federal policy aimed at making it easier for members of the general public with no aviation background to embark on careers in air traffic control would be reversed under legislation proposed in Congress on Friday.

The Safe Towers Act, introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican, and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D.-Ill., seeks to restore the Federal Aviation Administration‘s traditional recruitment process for hiring air traffic controllers. Those practices, in place for almost 25 years, favored graduates of FAA-accredited college aviation programs and military veterans with aviation experience, ahead of the general public.

Over the past winter, the FAA abruptly switched the recruitment focus to prioritize off-the-street candidates, as part of a strategy to replace more than 10,000 air traffic controllers who will retire over the next decade, the Tribune reported in May. The FAA controller workforce totals about 14,100, and white males make up the majority of the staffing at airport towers and radar facilities.

FAA officials have dismissed suggestions from critics that the new rules lack transparency and are designed primarily to increase diversity within the controller ranks, while risking an erosion of safety. FAA officials said the new process is more streamlined and will reduce testing costs. But the change followed an internal FAA analysis that showed the long-standing recruitment and testing protocols were a “barrier” for some minorities, particularly African-Americans.


House members demand FAA shed light on air-traffic controller hiring, Chicago Tribune

May 27, 2014|By Jon Hilkevitch | Tribune reporter
Twenty-nine members of the U.S. House sent a letter to the head of the Federal Aviation Administration over the holiday weekend complaining about a “lack of transparency’’ in the agency’s new off-the-street hiring policy for air-traffic controllers, and the lawmakers sought assurances that flight safety is not being impaired.

The House members also asked FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to provide a “clear description’’ of the new hiring process; the method used to score a new online biographical assessment that determined whether controller applicants moved on to the next level of testing; the assessment criteria that were used to evaluate an applicant’s aptitude to work as a controller; and the score needed to pass the biographical assessment, as well as releasing to each applicant their actual score.

The letter was dated Friday and a copy was obtained by the Tribune on Tuesday — the same day that the newspaper reported on the new FAA application process that recruits controller candidates exclusively from the general public.

The change effectively ended an almost 25-year partnership between the FAA and 36 colleges that produce graduates who have passed an FAA-approved air-traffic curriculum. The new hiring protocol also eliminated the preferred status for military veterans.

FAA officials said Tuesday afternoon that the agency will review the letter and respond to members of Congress directly.

The congressional letter stated that the FAA’s new hiring process is “intended to be a corrective measure to address alleged barriers to entry that exist for certain applicants.” The Tribune reported Tuesday that a study commissioned by the FAA last year concluded that college is a barrier to African-Americans being hired by the FAA.

“Not only did the FAA change its hiring process, but it did so with little or no advance notice or explanation to those planning to pursue an air-traffic control career with the agency upon completion of their studies or military careers,’’ the letter reads.

Members of the Illinois delegation who signed the letter were U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren and Daniel Lipinski.

Graduates of collegiate air-traffic programs “expressed frustrations that they were neither told what score was considered ‘passing,’ nor provided with the actual ‘score’ when they were informed by the FAA whether or not they had been selected for further assessment,’’ according to the letter.

“It is apparent to us that there is a lack of transparency in the FAA’s interim revised hiring policy,’’ the letter reads.

The House members also said in the letter that “we want to ensure that in implementing this new hiring policy the FAA ensured the safety role played by air-traffic controllers would not be negatively impacted in the present and future.”