FAA hires air traffic controllers off the street, students claim reverse discrimination, FOX News

PHOENIX — Last year, FOX 10 broke the story about thousands of college students prepared to become air traffic controllers, only to suddenly get washed out of the program by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Now those students have filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming reverse discrimination.

For 24 years, the FAA relied on colleges and universities to prepare the next generation of air traffic controllers through the Collegiate Training Initiative.

Arizona State University has produced hundreds of these students.

Two years ago, the FAA did a startling about face, suddenly announcing it would begin hiring air traffic controllers “off the street” with no experience necessary.

Anthony Fox, head of the Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, told Congress about the sudden hiring changes.

“The FAA took an opportunity to take a broad opening of the aperture, if you will, to try to get a larger universe of applicants into the program.”

Erin Hogan graduated from ASU at the top of her class.

“I scored 99 on the AT-SAT,” she said.

The AT-SAT, since 2002, is the gold standard for screening air traffic control applicants.

“I have two degrees. Bachelor’s degree in aviation management and a bachelor’s degree in air traffic control.”

Andrew Brigida graduated from ASU in 2013, ready to embark on a career as a controller.

He’s the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against the federal government. The lawsuit claims changes in hiring of air traffic controllers amounts to employment discrimination.

“You have trained for four years to do this job and suddenly the government announces, ah, forget all that, we’re going to hire off the street. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t make any sense to anybody.”

Bottom line, both Brigida and Hogan, highly qualified controllers, were washed out after spending tens of thousands of dollars on their education.  And this comes at a time when the FAA is facing a critical shortage of air traffic controllers.

Former controller John Gilding says lowering the hiring standards is compromising passenger safety.

“If you’re going to climb on an airplane and put grandma on the airplane and your kids on the airplane, do you want a well skilled, highly competent, talented person working that airplane or do you want some high school dropout that’s got his hat on backwards being the person guiding the airplane? I know what my answer is.”

The lawsuit alleges there was pressure on the FAA to hire more African-American controllers, but the percentage of African-American CTI students actually exceeded the percentage of African-Americans in the civilian workforce.


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