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.