Union: Controller Shortage Will Lead to Widespread Delays

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The Federal Aviation Administration has fallen short of its hiring goals for the fifth consecutive year, according to an Associated Press report out this week.

This means the number of air traffic controllers is at its lowest level in nearly three decades.

The number peaked in 2012 at 11,753 certified professional controllers, but currently is down 10% from that figure.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, 30 percent of those are currently eligible to retire.

The staffing shortage comes as air traffic is increasing, which the union says will eventually lead to widespread flight delays.

Many controllers at the nation’s busiest airports have already been working six-day work weeks for years.

A spokesperson for the union cited several reasons for the shortage. Government shutdowns and budget woes in recent years closed the FAA’s controller training academy for nine months, delaying classes for new controllers.

FAA budget uncertainties are also to blame. According to the union spokesperson, the FAA was able to hire almost no controllers in 2013 because of budget restrictions.

The Associated Press reports the following examples of the shortage in action cited by the union:

* The Atlanta approach control facility has 74 fully certified controllers, 27 percent short. Eighteen are eligible for retirement.

* The Chicago facility has 70 fully certified controllers, 30 percent short. Twenty-seven are eligible for retirement.

* The Dallas-Fort Worth facility has an all-time low of 52 fully certified controllers, a drop of 38 percent since 2006. Controllers have been working mandatory six-day work weeks since January.

* The Houston facility has 73 fully certified controllers, 22 percent short.

* The New York facility has a 25 year-low of 147 fully certified controllers, 35 percent short. Many work six-day weeks.