Fewer Eyes In The Sky

Diana Garcia, NATCA Representative
Diana Garcia, NATCA Representative

A critical shortage of air traffic controllers is compromising safety and has many people asking how this occurred. The loss of thousands of air traffic controllers has many people asking why.

Air traffic controllers blame the Federal Aviation Administration, while the FAA blames retiring Controllers. Both agree something needs to be done soon.

Faceless air traffic controllers hover in the Amarillo towers at Rick Husband Airport, handling the high stress duties of the sky without any room for error. They are short close 10 controllers for our area.

NATCA Representative Diana Garcia says controllers are vital part of safety in the skies. "From starting on the ground... Till they get up in the air and reach their destination. We make sure they reach there destination safely, Garcia said.

That safety is being compromised with high turn over and inexperienced controllers. FAA spokesperson Ronald Herwig said a reason for such a large shortage is retirees.  "A large bubble of retirements that the FAA is coping with that intern caused by the 1981 air traffic controllers strike and firing by President Reagan," Herwig said in a phone interview.

Garcia said, "With all the people retiring there is no way you can replace that experience with somebody with no experience so it does compromise safety in a huge way".

Big recruitment efforts are bringing in controllers, but compromising the already strenuous work load controllers face.  "The number they're hiring and inexperience is taking longer to get them certified as controllers. And on top of that you are working short staff... You need more people to accomplishes the training. Garcia said.

The FAA is attempting to recruit more people through social networks such as "MySpace" or "Facebook". Ronald Herwig says they have to look at all avenues for recruitment. "Things have changed over the 20-25 years. We are using the state of art to get our recruiting techniques  and we are getting wonderful people, " he said.

Some are not so confident in the new method the FAA is using to recruit controllers. "That's the sort of audience they are targeting and you can imagine the response they are getting and the qualifications they are getting from those ads," Garcia said explaining her worries over the recruitment.

The FAA is hoping they can recruit 59% more controllers by 2011 in less then five years. An accomplishment that union members say is not occurring fast enough to ensure safety on your flight today.